Unlike many project artifacts, the project roadmap shows what’s going on within your project, the next steps to take after the project is completed, and how they fit into the big picture. Often, being able to explain the roadmap can make or break a product, depending on the value it’s expected to bring over time and the way it’s planned to evolve in the future.
The project roadmap is a highly flexible, multifunctional artifact, which serves both as a sales tool and a reporting tool. An evolving document that allows everyone to visualize progression and reflects the project’s evolution, a well-constructed roadmap is an ace up the sleeve for a project manager that aims to catch the C-level stakeholders’ attention.
What is a Project Roadmap?
It’s surprisingly difficult to pinpoint what exactly a project roadmap is, and there has been a lot of debate on the subject. Some PMs describe it as a document that contains all the project objectives to make sure they are easy to follow. Some use it as an asset to present high-level project status to C-level executives. Others think of it as a means to highlight the next steps of the project evolution once the initial goals have been attained. I would argue that all of these represent the same thing, just in different phases of the project.
In its essence, the project roadmap is the summary of context, process drivers, and project logic laid out in strategic terms. It mostly focuses on the “why” compared to the “how” and the “what”, and explains everything in the simplest manner.
At the bare minimum, the project roadmap must include:
- The project objectives
- A high-level project milestone view
- A summary of project deliverables and/or targeted outcomes
- Risks and dependencies
Apart from the core aspects, a project roadmap may also include:
- The problem statement
- Facts that justify the project approach
- The logic for how various activities will work together
- A resource management plan
- Future steps that are needed to expand the vision for bigger success
If you zoom out and take a good look, you’ll realize that the project roadmap serves as an objective tracker during the initiation phase, a summary to keep your stakeholders in the loop during execution, and a map on how to proceed to the next stage once the initial goals are met.
The truth is that there is no right way to create a project roadmap. You may choose to go into multiple details or create just one page that provides an at-a-glance view of the project path, and you will be correct in both cases. However, remember that most of the time, stakeholders aren’t interested in too many details. They are interested in the big picture and the results. That’s why I’d recommend making your roadmap concise, high-level, and business-oriented.
Why is the Project Roadmap Important?
So we’ve covered what the project roadmap is, but why is it important to have one? You might think “Well, I know the plan and the details and I can easily explain to them if needed, why bother making a document?” The truth is that a huge chunk of a PM’s job is stakeholder and team management, and when you put that into perspective, there are two reasons why having a roadmap is necessary – time and context.
The roadmap allows you to convey the essential aspects of the project to C-level stakeholders, who often don’t have the time to delve into details. In addition, the same stakeholders may disregard or label your project as low priority, simply because they don’t know its importance. And lastly, you may be negatively impacted in one way or another if you don’t make a project roadmap.
Let me share a quick story.
This one time I was managing a website redesign for a website analytics product, and my team and I were nearing the project closing. I was to visit the client’s office the next day as I got a call from her asking to present the project to the C-level board while I was there.
And I was like sure, no problems. I threw together a couple of slides and while the presentation went fine, I failed to communicate the strategic values of the project. I spent so much time on understanding their customer service vision and reflecting on that in my project, and even made a list of necessary next steps to broaden the success even further. However, because I didn’t have a roadmap and failed to touch on those points during my speech, everything went down the drain. Learn from my mistakes. Having a project roadmap allows you to promote your project and raise its priority as you continuously build on the previous success.
Create a Project Roadmap in Five Easy Steps
While the steps to create a roadmap may vary depending on a few things, the general process looks like this:
1. The Context (The Why)
The whole roadmap should revolve around the “why”. This means you need to put together the strategic objectives, vision, and project objectives using your project charter, the strategic plan, and the product roadmap (if applicable). You should also talk to stakeholders and customers, conduct market research, and analyze business data to validate your project approach.
2. The Presentation (The How)
There are numerous ways to tell the story of your project. The key is to make it visual and easy to understand. For instance, a flow chart or an affinity diagram is a good way to visualize the project logic and dependencies, and how they relate to project objectives.
3. Milestones and Deliverables (The What)
You need to pinpoint the main deliverables and outcome summaries. Based on these, you can extract the important milestones and discuss them, as needed. Again, make sure that your audience understands the strategic value in achieving every successive milestone and deliverable. Otherwise, milestones become dates, and deliverables become things.
4. Risks and Risk Mitigation (The Reassurance)
Focus only on the highest risks and briefly explain their mitigation strategies. The risks may include project risks, product risks, market risks, organization risks, etc. This step ensures that as a PM, you know what you’re doing and how your actions may affect various aspects of the client’s business. More importantly, though, you’re showing everyone how you’re going to avoid all kinds of unwelcome scenarios.
5. The Next Steps (The Future)
Once everything is laid out nicely, take a few minutes to address the bigger picture and how your project can keep increasing its value to the organization after it’s completed. Also, include any suggestions regarding related activities that, when combined, will boost organizational performance or solve a key problem within the organization (for instance, your project + website redesign = customer satisfaction issue solved).
How to Fit Roadmapping in Your PM Process
While it’s important to keep your roadmap up to date throughout the whole project lifecycle, it doesn’t need to be a daily thing. Here is how you can fit it into your process:
- During Project Ideation – The roadmap is a great way to start massing ideas for your project while saving time and effort after the project is approved. At this stage, it’s going to be very similar to a hypothetical case that is a part of the bigger picture that you can use to drive the project forward. The roadmap will most definitely not be complete at this stage, make sure to remember that.
- During Project Initiation – The roadmap can serve as a great kick-off presentation and vice versa. After the presentation, transform your kick-off into a roadmap and keep it close. You will need it again soon.
- During Project Planning – The roadmap helps you stay focused on the objectives that actually matter. Keep your roadmap at hand to make sure that your activities are in line with the business objectives. Once you’ve got all the details nailed down, transform those into milestones and add them to the roadmap.
- During Project Execution – Once the project enters the execution phase, use your roadmap to brief new team members and stakeholders. This will help turn the conversation into a more strategic (for stakeholders) and visual (for team members) dialog, highlighting the connections with the big picture.
- During Project Monitoring and Control – Once the roadmap contains the high-level view, use it during stand-ups and status meetings to keep everyone focused on the goals.
- During Project Closing – Finally, update the roadmap with the results and future actions to contextualize your project in the big picture. Use it to present the positive outcomes to stakeholders, given that all the next steps will be completed.
Project roadmaps can be used differently depending on the context, but the key is to have a succinct, high-level view of your project that easily explains the project’s essence to a broad audience. It’s useful to summarize the details during every step of the project and present it to key stakeholders, as well as team members.