What is a technology roadmap, really?

One of the most popular roadmaps in our template library is the technology roadmap. While “technology roadmap” can refer to a variety of roadmap types, the term mostly applies to roadmaps that define and document the administration of an organization’s internal IT system.

So, why do you need one? And how do you ensure your technology roadmap is actually useful?

First, let’s clarify: “Technology roadmap” is an umbrella term that encompasses several different roadmap sub-types and iterations. A few examples include:

  • Development roadmap
  • Application roadmap
  • Internal IT systems roadmap

However, we’re going to deal with the broadest and most universal applications of this type of roadmap: Administering an internal IT system.

Ultimately, an IT systems roadmap exists to align the organization on the “when” and “why” of what’s happening to IT. This type of technology roadmap is most effective when managed by the administrators of tech—be it a dedicated IT team or an operations manager.

That roadmap acts as an organization-wide communications and prioritization device, making sure each tool achieves its purpose and decisions best serve the organization’s priorities.

Let’s walk through what this type of roadmap looks like, why it’s useful, and how you can implement a technology roadmap to make better, smarter plans for your organization's future.

We created a free guide to help you identify & build the right technology roadmap. Download it here.

Why do you need a technology roadmap?

The amount of technology that organizations use in day-to-day operations can be overwhelming. Think of all the business apps and tools that make it possible for you and your co-workers to get work done—customer relationship management, marketing automation, content management systems, accounting platforms, HR portals, video conferencing, and on and on.

Maintaining that tech stack can get incredibly complex, and organizations are always making changes to which tools they use, and how they use them.
Companies are always undergoing merges, upgrades, transitions and additions, and it’s important to map out when and how all of these changes happen.

An internal IT systems roadmap helps teams implement a clear plan of action and make smarter decisions about technology.

Technology roadmapping can be used to plan when/how new apps and tools will be implemented—as well as who will be involved in the process. A technology roadmap can also be used to outline when upgrades and improvements to an existing stack will take place and when parts of it will be retired.

For example, retiring a CRM system to onboard a new one is an arduous project that involves multiple stakeholders and a lot of finicky tasks like data migration. Technology roadmaps can break this process into bite-sized pieces over a quarter. A roadmap sets expectations for all impacted team members, keeps everyone on track, and aligns everyone to the goal of pushing the new system live.

Charting IT initiatives helps organizations determine which apps and tools to prioritize. Maybe the new CRM system is projected to boost the sales team’s productivity by “X” amount and therefore help them close “Y” amount of deals to get annual recurring revenue to “Z” amount.

Laying out those specifics helps quantify exactly which tech transitions are more valuable for a company. With that information in hand, you can decide to tackle the CRM upgrade first, for example, and back-burner that new analytics platform for the marketing team or the payroll system for HR.

technology roadmap

What a technology roadmap looks like

There are a couple ways to approach this type of roadmap: swimlane view vs timeline view.

The swimlane view of our technology roadmap template is particularly helpful for getting a high-level understanding of what’s going on in IT for each department. For example, marketing will be able to understand, at a glance, the status of the latest tech to be added or upgraded.

technology roadmap

For teams that want to view the details of IT systems administration, a timeline view makes it easy to visualize the timing and resourcing for the technology resources in your pipeline.

technology roadmap

You can pivot your technology roadmaps to tell a very detailed story of how IT administration will roll out over a specific period. For example, look at the image above to see a view that showcases which employee is spearheading each initiative and when it will be completed.

The timeline view also lets you add milestones to your roadmap. Milestones are the key achievements of your IT administration strategy—like releasing upgrades. Milestones showcase progress and rally the team around deadline-oriented goals, keeping everyone on course.

How to create a technology roadmap

For anyone building a technology roadmap for the first time, the process can appear rather daunting and often seem complicated because of the sheer scope of detail required in the document. Thankfully, building a technology roadmap from scratch doesn’t have to be a grueling task—it can be quite simple and streamlined if you know what to focus on.

When talking technology roadmaps, we often recommend exploring three main building blocks that will help you quickly and effectively prepare your team’s roadmap:

  1. Start by asking yourself “why”
  2. Don’t overthink the little things
  3. Make it simple & consumable

Working through these three points will give you the core foundation you need to create the technology roadmap that’s right for you.

Start by asking yourself “why”

When building roadmaps, regardless of whether they’re technology roadmaps or any other variation, always start by asking the following question:

“Why does this roadmap need to be created?”

At the end of the day, the benefit of any technology roadmap should be that it helps your team to better understand the landscape of the technology they use every day—and how that landscape will evolve over time.

Additionally, it should clearly be either focused or holistic—that is, either presenting the technology relevant to certain teams or departments, or simply mapping all technologies across the full landscape of your organization. Anything in between can get complicated and blur the “why” that you’re trying to answer.

By clarifying the reason behind the roadmap you want to build, you're ensuring that you're going into the roadmap with a clear direction of thought and not worrying about missing or misrepresenting the content to your stakeholder audiences.

Don’t overthink the little things

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when building their technology roadmaps is that they will often try to throw in as much content and context as possible, which in turn makes it almost impossible to go back and prioritize effectively.

When you become too focused on how you’ll prioritize the smaller tasks, you often lose sight of the bigger-picture issues.

By determining and prioritizing your organization’s bigger issues or weak spots first, building and prioritizing tasks on the rest of the roadmap becomes so much simpler. This is because you're able to input additional projects or tasks where they need to belong without having to worry about whether the important things are getting overlooked.

Additionally, you can set the pace for what you consider to be “bigger issues”—whether those are solutions that provide significant change to your organization’s technology landscape, or simply streamline your existing stack and help to more effectively budget for your team’s needs.

Make it simple & consumable

Finally, with the first two points in mind, we have reached the proverbial “fork-in-the-road” that all roadmappers will eventually reach: How is the roadmap going to be formatted?

For many users building their first stakeholder-facing technology roadmap, the swimlane view is the most effective because it provides a sense of familiarity for your stakeholders given the similar “card-based” Kanban experience that users likely know through industry standard planning tools like monday.com or Trello.

This type of visualization is perfect for teams that are looking to showcase the prioritization of tasks on their roadmap in a way that can quickly be understood by their viewers without any additional explanation.
However, for those who are looking to explore the road(map) less traveled, there are some interesting benefits to using the timeline-style visualization when building your technology roadmap.

Many technology projects are timeboxed and rely on strict deadlines, so the use of Key Dates or Milestones in tandem with your roadmap items can provide a direct benefit for those relying on this to dictate the scheduling of their upcoming work.

Additionally, the timeline view is fantastic for giving stakeholders additional context that a swimlane view might not necessarily provide—allowing them to more effectively understand the organization-wide sequence of events and operations that will achieve the outputs of your technology roadmap. It also effectively communicates how each of those tasks are dependent on one another.

Building a technology roadmap can often seem complicated because of the sheer scope of detail required in the document. However, sticking to those three points can help you quickly create a polished, effective roadmap.

Choose a color palette that adds clarity, add some Label Suffixes for additional context, and share with your team using Roadmunk’s publishing options. Keep everyone on track and confident in project progress.

Ready to build your own tech roadmap? Check out our ready-to-use templates.

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