Chapter 1

What is a roadmap?


Roadmaps can smooth alignment, improve strategic organization and centralize team collaboration—regardless of what kind of business you have.

An organization-wide roadmapping process can help you bring the business goals front-and-center for everyone to understand and act on. This high-level document is a visual representation of a strategy: it answers the questions of what will be done, who will be involved in the work, the details of scope and resource allocation, as well as how and why certain initiatives were prioritized over others.

Product Roadmap example

When teams work together and rally around a visual plan for how to grow, maintain and expand the business, they have what they need to go a lot further, a lot faster.

That's why your strategy can’t live in a silo. You need a way to communicate it visually to your decision-makers and stakeholders so they know you’re on top of it. And you need to do it in a way that makes you look good and confident!

From visual product roadmaps to marketing, HR and project roadmaps, this guide will give you the roadmapping basics you need to kick-start a roadmapping process at your organization.

Visualize your strategy as a beautiful, easy-to-share roadmap. Get started in minutes with one of the roadmaps in our library.

product roadmap

What is a roadmap?

A visual roadmap is a communication tool. They’re created and presented to get all stakeholders, executives and your entire team aligned on one strategy so they can do their most impactful work.

The basic definition of a roadmap is simple: it’s a visual way to quickly communicate a plan or strategy. At a high level, this broad definition applies to all the roadmaps that can exist at a company, including marketing, IT, sales, finance, project-based teams and anyone whose work has any impact on the business goals of an organization.

Every team has a plan and strategy built around doing what pushes the business goals forward. When you’re busy executing the strategy, you can get lost in the day-to-day task management. A roadmap is one of the most effective tools for rising above the granular details and the chaos. Roadmaps give you a bird's-eye view of everything that’s happening at your team or company.

And with the right tool, you can roll up all those different strategies into one master view that allows you to see how all these pieces are connected and aligned with the high-level plan of the company.

Master Roadmap

Start aligning all your strategies across all departments and stakeholders using Roadmunk’s Master Roadmapping features. Give it a try here.

Ideally, a good roadmap should effectively communicate the following strategic pieces:

  • Strategic alignment: Why (and how) the initiatives align with the higher-level business goals or product/business strategy
  • Resources: How a team will achieve those goals (OKRs, for example) and what resources are required to achieve them
  • Time estimates: When any important deliverables are due (and with the right roadmapping tool, you have the flexibility to define dates according to your delivery needs. Either by defining specific days, fuzzier months, or less specific soon/now/later buckets)
  • Dependencies with other teams: The teams and team members that need to be involved and why

One of the most popular types of roadmaps is the product roadmap, and they’re instrumental to product management (it’s why we have an entire library of resources for product managers). Product roadmaps provide a crystal clear way for product teams to visualize how their product will evolve over time. Because a product roadmap is a visual plan, it plays really well in a presentation — making it a great tool for PMs to align all stakeholders on their one high-level product strategy.

Non-product teams have started to catch on to how they can use roadmaps to improve strategic communication and win executive buy-in for those plans. More and more marketing, IT and project-based teams are visualizing their strategies with roadmaps.

What can roadmaps help you achieve?

  • Consensus and alignment. Roadmaps can create the transparent consensus needed to move forward with decision-making around strategy (from the high level business goals to the granular day-to-day tasks and projects)
  • Better communication. Roadmapping promotes and improves communication across teams and departments by creating an ongoing dialogue around strategy and goals.
  • A more visual way of seeing a plan. The visual aspect of roadmaps makes it easy to communicate outputs, timelines, projects and initiatives across an organization.
  • Breaking team silos. Roadmaps can be the key in creating alignment between resource allocation and a company’s goals, and between the technical side of the company (product, development, engineering) and the business.

In this guide, you’ll find the roadmapping basics you need — best practices that are applicable to all types of roadmapping teams — like how to create your first visual roadmap, what it should include and examples of beautiful roadmaps to inspire you.

product roadmap

What should a roadmap include?

How to create a roadmap and what to include in it really depends on the type of roadmap you’re creating. But generally speaking, there’s a set of essential elements and qualities that apply to all roadmaps.

  • It has to be flexible. If you want to succeed at implementing a roadmapping process at your company, you need to treat roadmaps as flexible tools, not static documents. Strategy-setting can get complex, ambiguous and uncertain—so you need the most flexible roadmapping tool that can adapt to that reality.

  • It has to be collaborative. What’s the best way to gain buy-in and alignment on a plan? Involve your stakeholders early in the roadmap planning process, listen to their objections and concerns and be curious about their reasoning for why some things should be prioritized over others. Learn how to say no, but also take the time to listen and understand where your teammates are coming from when it comes to prioritizing their work.

  • It has to be visually beautiful. Good design elements = crystal clear communication. You want to be able to demonstrate to your stakeholders that you’re on top of your strategy. So it’s important that the roadmap meets you halfway when it comes to presenting your reasoning.

Your roadmap should also have these visual elements:

  • A clear depiction of dependencies. Projects usually involve more than one team of stakeholders. With projects that involve many moving parts, it’s important to define those dependencies early on in the roadmapping process.
    feature-dependencies
  • The right amount of detail. Things like key dates and milestones can create a linear visualization for stakeholders to keep track of everything that’s going on at the organization.
    feature-milestones
  • Use color to your advantage. A good roadmap should use color to tell a story and establish relationships between the items on your roadmap. You should use color palettes to establish a visual relationship between the different categories on the roadmap.

How to create a roadmap

You made it all the way here, so you’re probably thinking, “Ok, I know what elements a roadmap should include. Now how do I do it?” Here’s a high-level view of how you can get started with a roadmapping process at your organization:

  1. Do an assessment of where your company stands today

How are your current efforts bringing you closer to achieving the company’s vision and business goals? Roadmaps are about setting a direction that’s focused on a number of outcomes that have been prioritized based on what needs to be done. In this case, “what needs to be done” could be centered around:

  • Increasing revenue
  • Expanding market reach
  • Retaining current customers and making product improvements

Hopefully, the work that your teams do every day is aligned around creating an impact on those goals the company has defined at the start of the quarter, month, or year. If you find in your pre-roadmapping assessment that the work your teams are doing isn’t aligned with those goals, then those strategies need to be reworked to ensure that’s the case.

  1. Determine what you want to achieve

Business goal-setting frameworks like Porter's Five Forces, SWOT analysis, or Ash Maurya's lean canvas can help you audit your goals at that high level. These frameworks are good for taking stock of your current situation, so you can identify the areas you want to focus on for any given term.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Where are your teams’ efforts best allocated? How can you prioritize resources (teams, finances, tooling) towards achieving those goals? A prioritization framework can help you gain that clarity and focus.
  • Do you have a way to measure success? Are you keeping a pulse check on whether or not you’re getting close to achieving those goals (KPIs, OKRs, business metrics)?
  • How are you tracking progress? Hopefully, you’re using a flexible roadmapping tool like Roadmunk that allows you to keep it updated so it demonstrates the progress of each initiative.
  1. Establish how you'll achieve those goals

Determine the steps or key results you’ll need to achieve in order to hit those milestones. What are the initiatives and projects that each team is working on towards reaching the business goals? These are the elements you’ll define on your roadmap—the work you’re intending to commit to that you’ll present to your stakeholders.

And let your visual roadmap do the work of telling this story! What you want to achieve, who will help you get there, and how—these are all questions you can answer visually using the right roadmap tool and format. Here are some examples of the most popular roadmap formats used by companies in Roadmunk:

The no-dates roadmap: The no-dates roadmap offers more flexibility than roadmaps built on timelines. They’re helpful for companies whose priorities are constantly shifting. This is usually the case when your business is still in its earliest stages—when you’re processing new information on a week-to-week or even day-to-day basis.

Roadmap example

The hybrid roadmap: This type of product roadmap includes dates—but not hard dates. For example, a company might create a roadmap that is organized by month or quarter. This style of roadmap allows you to plan into the future while maintaining flexibility. Items here are plotted by month, and designated as either Current, Near-Term, or Future. By time-boxing projects according to months, you create a loose projection that’s helpful but not constraining.

Roadmap example

The timeline roadmap: The name is self-explanatory: it’s a roadmap plotted on a timeline. A complex timeline roadmap really isn’t helpful or necessary until you’re juggling multiple departments, dependencies and deadlines. A timeline roadmap gives a visual structure to the many, many, many moving parts that have to work together to ensure the success of your business. They also show the product’s long-term vision—since some departments must plan a year or more in advance.

roadmap example

Here's a video where we go over how to create a roadmap. It's specifically about product roadmaps, but you can apply the advice to all kinds of teams and project needs:

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Roadmap examples

So, by now you know that a company-wide roadmapping process can help you boost visibility into each team’s goals and how they're working towards executing a high-level business strategy. Each department within your company has different needs and priorities that will translate differently onto a roadmap (we understand this, which is why we have such an extensive library of roadmap templates that span across product, technology and business use cases).

Product roadmap example

A product roadmap focuses on communicating the intent behind a product strategy. The product roadmap is the strategic communication tool in a product manager’s arsenal. Product managers work with internal teams and stakeholders to build a crystal-clear roadmap that clearly communicates deliverables and the expectations for where the product is going and why.

Product Roadmap example

Ready to visualize your product strategy and shine in front of your stakeholders? Give this roadmap template a try here.

Technology roadmap example

A technology roadmap is a powerful tool for communicating the strategy behind complex technological initiatives. It also helps create organizational alignment on what’s happening with these projects. Think of ‘technology roadmap’ as an umbrella term with various types of roadmaps falling under it, such as an IT systems roadmap, a development roadmap or a cloud strategy roadmap—just to name a few.

Technology Roadmap

Uncomplicate your technological plans using a visual roadmap. Visit our template library and start using this roadmap today.

Project roadmap example

A project roadmap offers a project manager—and their relevant stakeholders—with a high-level overview of the project’s goals, initiatives and deliverables. This can be project leads for sales, marketing, HR, or otherwise; this roadmap applies to all your business departments. Roadmaps provide a bird’s eye view of a project, so that a project manager can get all their stakeholders on the same page regarding the major components of the project like milestones and overall objectives.

Project Roadmap example

Get all your project stakeholders on the same page using this roadmap template. Check it out here.

Strategic roadmap example

Simply put, a strategy roadmap communicates your organization’s vision. Usually championed by senior-level stakeholders, strategy roadmaps focus on mission-critical business objectives, and usually emphasize long-term timelines and deadlines. Unlike product roadmaps, which often show which features and initiatives will be executed in the short-term, strategic roadmaps illustrate the long game.

Strategy Roadmap example

Show your stakeholders that you're on top of your strategy using this roadmap template. Start using it here.

Agile roadmap example

An agile roadmap illustrates how your product or technology will evolve—with a lot of flexibility. Unlike time-based roadmaps, which focus on dates and deadlines, agile roadmaps focus on themes and progress. We like to think of any roadmap as a “statement of intent,” because it implies that plans can and will change. Agile roadmaps emerged from this philosophy: they’re a statement of where you’re going, not a hard-and-fast plan of action and to-dos.

Agile Roadmap example

Keep your plans agile and flexible using this roadmap template. Give it a whirl here.

ch1-create-a-roadmap-1

Create your first roadmap

A visual roadmap is a great way to communicate strategic intent. A roadmap needs to be a flexible, living document that facilitates the communication of the plan for how you’ll achieve a strategy; the deliverables, the milestones, the objectives and key results should be front and center. The best kinds of roadmaps foster team collaboration and improve the quality of your presentations.

It’s not easy to do any of those things using Microsoft Office spreadsheets and slideshow presentations. Building roadmaps using Excel and Powerpoint poses a few problems:

  1. Excel roadmaps can be time-consuming. Spreadsheets and presentations require a lot of manual formatting. It’s not the most intuitive or efficient way of turning a strategy into a visual: you have to manually design, populate and update each cell in a spreadsheet using raw data.
  2. Microsoft Office roadmaps are visually limited. Unless you’re a Powerpoint or Excel expert that can whip out beautiful visuals in no time, these tools require that you build everything from scratch: the visual design, the color palettes, the elements that depict milestones, key dates and dependencies, etc.
  3. Updating an excel or powerpoint roadmap can get messy. When you pass a spreadsheet around to multiple teams, who then have different outputs to add, it makes it hard to track when and where changes were made. It’s especially hard to stay on top of everything if the strategy for updating teams is to email a file every time something gets updated.

Roadmapping tools solve for all these problems by giving you presentation flexibility (quickly update the granularity of a roadmap based on the stakeholders you’re presenting to), and by centralizing the roadmap in one place to avoid multiple-version chaos.

Find a roadmap template, then make it your own. All 45+ of our roadmap templates can be accessed in Roadmunk for free. No more Excel & PPT gymnastics. Get started today.

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