An Introduction to Project Roadmaps

This is a continuation of a series about roadmaps. Make sure to check out the introductory post and follow the series to learn more about the different types of roadmaps.

Starting and managing a project is no easy task. As projects become more complex and markets become more fast-paced, teams need a way to quickly grasp the condition and progress of their projects. But a project roadmap can help your teams do so much more 

In this post, we will dive into the definition of project roadmaps, their benefits, key features and some tips to help you make the most out of your roadmaps. 

What is a project roadmap?

A project roadmap is a visualized high-level overview of your project’s core tasks and progress. It does this by easily conveying relevant information such as key milestones, general timelines, expected deliverables, dependencies, resource allocations and key contacts related to the project. The aim is to provide a concise overview of a project through an easy to understand graphical visualisation.

A project roadmap often has a defined start and end date that allows teams to organise projects into distinct phases, typically following the phases of the project lifecycle, to help compartmentalise the many tasks that make up a successful project. Project roadmaps can have varying degrees of detail depending on the type of project and the information is being communicated. 

This is what makes a project roadmap such a valuable tool for project teams as it allows them to simplify communications with different stakeholders as well as allows them to easily keep track of project progress through milestones and prioritise the right tasks based on the project objectives.

What a project roadmap is not

While roadmaps can be a vital central document for your project management activities, it is important to differentiate a roadmap from other documents and tools used in project management. While their objectives and features may overlap, it is important to not mistake project roadmaps with the following tools:

  • Project plan: A project plan is often built off the back of a proper product plan and contained extensive detail that would either overcrowd or prove irrelevant to the specific stakeholders that are looking at the project roadmap.
  • Project charter: A project charter is a documented outline of the project in its entirety. While they share elements of similarity with a roadmap, roadmaps are typically catered to a wider audience and are more visual tools than written.
  • Product roadmap: A product roadmap is more open-ended, typically with a focus on different feature developments through each iteration rather than definitive start and end dates. 
  • Project backlog: While a project roadmap does include deliverables, it does so in a visual form rather than an itemized list.

Project roadmaps serve the specific function of giving different stakeholders a bird’s-eye view over projects. They can be altered to suit the specific audience, but they are meant to relay the most important information at a single glance and cut down the need for excessive reports and long-winded meetings. While they have elements of different project management tools, they are aimed at optimising and streamlining rather than providing detailed information.

Benefits of a project roadmap

There are plenty of benefits that come from utilising project roadmaps, a few main benefits include its ability to:

Streamline communication and improve collaboration

Rather than send countless report updates and schedule unnecessary meetings, roadmaps give the relevant viewer or stakeholder an accurate understanding of the overall project progress and condition with a single glance. It easily brings everyone onto the same page without having to re-explain or re-hash past progress. This is particularly useful in improving collaboration with other teams and stakeholders as they can easily be brought up to speed simply by having access to the project roadmap.

Manages stakeholder expectations

Without a clear way of visualizing the entire project, stakeholders can often become prone to micromanaging projects. They can often demand every minute detail and disrupt team workflows because they do not have a clear understanding of the overall project timeline, prioritises and progress. A project roadmap easily fills in the gap and allows stakeholders to clearly see where teams are at and how different changes can impact the project as a whole. This is critical to managing stakeholder expectations when projects change and morph as the market evolves.

Enables proper task prioritisation

When project objectives and dependencies are clearly mapped out, teams can easily visualise the most important tasks that contribute the most to project completion. When new variables arise, the product roadmaps gives a practical understanding of the impact of changes without having to alter a myriad of project documents and backlogs. 

Supports strategic planning activities

When paired with an integrative and real-time tool, project roadmaps allow key decision-makers to have a clear understanding of project progress and value at present as well as moving into the future. This allows them to view different projects within their portfolio on a higher level and make strategic decisions on the best opportunities to increase value for the organisation. Without this view, organisations could be making decisions based on half-baked information and miss critical opportunities to maximise resources within their organisation. 

Key features of a project roadmap

While every roadmap will be slightly different, the typical project roadmap will feature these elements:

Schedule overview

As a project typically has a defined start and end date, a project roadmap will feature an overview of the project schedule in the form of general tasks and project timelines. This can be further organised into different phases that help break down the timeline into sizeable chunks, typically aligned with the project lifecycle.

Milestones

Milestones are specific points within the project life cycle that are predefined to help measure overall project progress towards its goal. It is often triggered by the completion or initiation of certain tasks within the project. Milestones help demarcate progress throughout the project and make it easier for other collaborating teams and stakeholders to grasp team progress.

Dependencies

Dependencies show how different tasks are interrelated and visualize the necessary sequencing required to make project processes as optimised and streamlined as possible. With the help of simple lines that describe the various task relationships, teams can easily understand and prioritise the tasks that contribute the most to project completion.

Clear deliverables

Any successful project start with a clear definition of the project deliverables. Teams need to know exactly what is expected of them and when the deliverables are expected. Within the project roadmap, various deliverables will be highlighted throughout different stages so all relevant stakeholders can visualise the immediate value that is being delivered by the team at present.

Tasks and assignments

The typical Gantt-style roadmap, tasks and assignments as represented as a singular bar with a defined start and end date. It outlines the different requirements for the task to be completed as well as the different resources and individuals assigned to the task itself. Task progress is often represented through a percentage completion bar that is often linked to the deliverable produced in the tasks. By assigning each task to the right people, teams have a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities within the overall project.

Risks

Though a more integrated feature, risk management is a critical part of effective project management and making stakeholders aware of relevant risks is important for stakeholder management and project success. A proper project roadmap tool will be able to integrate your risk management tools and practices such as RAID logs and risk breakdown structures.

Resource allocation overviews

By defining timelines and assigning tasks to the relevant individuals, teams can get an overview of their overall resource allocation needs and expectations. When integrated with your resource management tools, a project roadmap should be able to highlight spaces where resources may be overallocated or underutilised. 

Time-phased view

For project roadmaps to be truly accessible and understandable for all relevant stakeholders, they need to have the capacity to show different time frames. For the project team itself, having a daily and weekly view allows them to understand the most immediate tasks that need to be accomplished at any given time. Higher-level decision-makers may require a more long-term annual perspective to be able to make strategic long term plans.

Project roadmap best practices

With the right project roadmap tool, project road mapping can be a rather simple and intuitive process. However, this does not mean the tool solves all your problems. Teams can often make some basic mistakes that stop them from fully utilising their roadmaps. Here are some best practice tips that help you make the most of your project roadmaps

Build a project roadmap before the project plan

Project plans and project roadmaps are two similar but distinct documents. A project roadmap offers you a strategic overview of the project while a project plan defines the tactical details. While it is often tempting to jump straight into project planning, gathering all the data, making calculations and estimation, it can often become complicated without a proper framework. 

Additionally, project roadmaps can also save teams valuable time and effort when making proposals. Instead of expending valuable resources on a plan that may or may not be approved, a general roadmap can give key decision-makers the overview they need to first justify and approve the project before it goes any further.

Continuously update your roadmaps

A project roadmap is a living document and finds its value in being as accurate as possible. While an integrated and automated roadmap tool can help lessen your updating activities, teams still need to keep a watchful eye over their tasks, objectives and deliverables or they can run the risk of suffering from project scope creep. If the information is left unmanaged, the roadmap can quickly become unreadable for different stakeholders and defeat the very purpose of its existence. Make sure to spend time monitoring and updating your project roadmaps to make sure they are clear, concise, precise and relevant to all stakeholders.

Do not put too much information

As mentioned prior, the project roadmap is all about simplifying reports and streamlining communication. It can be tempting to add all the project-related details in a single document but that diverges from the very purpose of the roadmap. Teams can use other project management tools and documents such as project charters and backlogs to dive deeper into project details but an effective project roadmap has just the right amount of information that is relevant to various stakeholders.

Share it with the right people

The project roadmap is a valuable stakeholder management tool and surveys of project professionals have ranked stakeholder management as the most valuable PPM process. Project roadmaps are specifically made in visual graphical forms so they can be easily understood and shared with different people. If you are not giving people access to your roadmaps, you are missing out on reaping the benefits of proper stakeholder engagement.

Learn more about roadmaps with pmo365

Our team knows that roadmaps are valuable tools for any organisation. That is why we have spent a lot of time creating valuable content for project management professionals to make the most out of their roadmaps. Make sure to follow this series through our blog and read more about the next type of roadmap, product roadmaps, here.

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