How to build a successful project roadmap

Statistics show that about 90% of startups fail. Across all industries, the average failure rate for the first year is 10%. Failure is most common for startups during years two through five, with a staggering 70% of new businesses failing.

That's a scary figure!

The good news is, most of the problems usually causing these failures can be eliminated with an effective project roadmap.

A clear roadmap provides a framework for thinking about the future. It creates a structure for strategic planning and development, ensuring future goals are met.

But what exactly is a project roadmap? Where did the roadmap concept originate from? And most importantly, how do you build a successful project roadmap? We'll answer all these questions in this post. Let's dig in!

What Is a Roadmap in Project Management?

Different fields have different types of projects. Some projects are small and easy to manage, while others are complex and difficult to handle.

Complex projects need more than verbal communication to execute.

In most cases, these projects are usually divided into teams and departments where every team has a part to play to ensure project completion. To better manage things and ensure smooth coordination and flow of tasks within the given timeline, proper planning is critical. And this is where a project roadmap comes in.

A roadmap in project management is a visual, high-level overview of the project's objectives and deliverables presented on a timeline.

It's a simple, easy-to-follow source of truth for team members and key stakeholders to visualize the project and make critical decisions without having to sift through the minutiae. A project roadmap usually includes key elements such as:

  • Goals and objectives
  • Project resources
  • Task dependencies
  • Project deliverables
  • Timelines and project deadlines
  • Possible risks and more

A roadmap provides the big picture and a visual layout of your project flow. This visual representation of a project makes for a fast and ready exchange of information between team members. Most importantly, it makes teamwork easier.

Having a roadmap also helps you prioritize tasks (urgent, important, less important, etc. fast. With just a click, you can easily move a task from "needed" to "work-in-progress" or "completed," making it easier for your team to move on to other tasks.

In a nutshell, a roadmap is a bird's eye view of a project. It allows project managers to gain visibility into key components of a project, including the project stage, steps to be taken, and a description of how, when, and who will complete these steps.

What Is an Efficient Roadmap Today in Project Management?

Many project managers mistakenly assume that any planned list of things to do or steps to complete a project constitutes a roadmap. But this is not the case.

An efficient project management roadmap should have the following characteristics:

1. Visual Overview

For a project roadmap to be effective, it must include a minimum number of things. The first is that it needs to present a visual overview of the "big picture."

As we've mentioned, a roadmap is a visual document that clearly outlines your goals, objectives, and deliverables. This visual chart should help the project manager visualize the project's progress while allowing the whole team to collaborate efficiently.

An efficient roadmap should have a high visual representation. In other words, it needs to be visually beautiful. Use color codes and legends to tell the story and establish a relationship between the various items on your plan. That said, every plan jotted down on paper or scribbled on a brainstorming chart isn't an efficient roadmap. It needs to be the result of a team thinking process.

2. Flexible

An efficient roadmap communicates the project's vision and the steps needed to get there—but it doesn't need to be set in stone.

A good roadmap is flexible in time and scope.

Project milestones and task completion dates can change due to many factors, some initiated by the client and others beyond the PM's control. A flexible roadmap allows you to switch around projected time horizons without having to redo the entire roadmap.

3. Shareable

For a project roadmap to be effective, it must be shareable.

No matter how though-out your roadmap is, it's worthless if it doesn't take the opinions of key stakeholders and team members.

A great way to create a shared roadmap is to involve team members and key stakeholders in the project roadmapping decision—preferably in the form of a collaborative workshop. Your team will perform better if they understand the nitty-gritty surrounding the project, which can be achieved through active participation in sharing ideas and opinions.

4. Clear & Concise

Complexity breeds confusion.

For a project roadmap to be effective, it needs to be clear and concise, with a clear depiction of dependencies. With projects involving many moving parts, it's vital to define those dependencies early in the roadmapping process.

Who Invented the Concept of Roadmap?

The concept of roadmapping was originally visualized and developed by Motorola in the 1970s to foster improved alignment between technology and product development.

Bob Galvin, the CEO of Motorola at that time, described a roadmap as "an extended look at the future of a chosen field of inquiry composed from the collective knowledge and imagination of the brightest drivers of change in that field."

While Galvin focused on technology roadmapping, many other approaches to roadmapping have been developed as well, including project roadmaps that provide a highly strategic view of the topic of interest.

What Is the History of Project Roadmap?

The product roadmap we know of is the result of decades of evolution. It has been in existence since the early 1980s when personal computing was in its infancy.

While the industrial revolution made the manufacture of goods on a large scale possible, the ability to manage complex supply chain projects was lacking until personal computers came into existence. Computing power enabled management to track and manage complex technology chains in ways that were previously impossible.

Computing power was first employed in the field of technology roadmapping. It was focused on implementing strategic goals in the technology arena, specifically with the help of new technological tools brought about by computers.

Technological roadmapping involved three phases, as outlined below:

Preliminary Phase

The preliminary phase involved identifying the problematic areas by the executives or decision makers. The executives would then work to identify the technological solutions that best solve the problem.

Development Phase

The decision-makers would then propose a roadmap to remedy the problem. In this stage, engineers faced with the challenge would identify the technological solutions that would address the problems in question.

They'd then analyze the alternatives, review the timelines, and eventually settle on the ideal solution to implement.

Follow-Up Activity Phase

In this phase, the proposed roadmap would be critically assessed, validated, and hopefully approved by the decision-makers.

If approved, the implementation would begin with continuous updates necessitated by technological innovations and the changing needs of the participants.

The T-Plan, which was designed by Cambridge University in the 1950s to aid in development processes, is what refined roadmapping into what it is today. The T-Plan offered step-by-step guidance on applying technological and product roadmapping using minimal resources.

In 2001, Agile Development methods were invented, which further refined roadmapping by prioritizing product success for the customer rather than focusing only on timelines. This gave developers more flexibility and autonomy, which formed the basis of the project roadmap we have today.

Since then, many different forms of roadmaps have been developed, including project roadmaps, platform roadmaps, visionary roadmaps, and strategy & market roadmaps.

How to Build a Successful Project Roadmap

Building an effective project roadmap can be easily done by following a few steps.

1. Choose a Project Management Software

In project management, your work is as good as the tools you use to create your project roadmap. Instead of manually creating a project roadmap, find a project management tool that can help you create and present a visually appealing roadmap.

2. Define Project Objectives

Objectives can only be tracked for progress if they have been clearly defined.

So, the question "What are we seeking to achieve?" must be answered in measurable terms so the project manager can determine whether or not the goals are being achieved. The project scope, messaging, and timelines must be defined before tracking starts.

3. Identify Relevant Data Points

What data pointsv or KPIs are you tracking for the set objectives? Specify figures and metrics that will be used to measure how well each of your objectives is being achieved.

4. Set Project Deliverables

Your deliverables should be clear, trackable, and measurable. They should be based on your brand vision, reflect your strategy, and implement your plan.

Ensure your goals are clear and detailed. Create a layout, outline your project specifics, including functions and key stakeholders, then provide examples and references. You'll need this information when diving your project into steps for roadmapping.

5. Estimate Project Timelines and Costs

When creating a project roadmap, make sure to evaluate its scope.

You should have an idea of:

  • How many people you'll need
  • How many tasks need to be completed
  • How long it will take them to complete each task
  • How much these tasks will cost your company

This should give you insights into the project cost and estimated project timelines. If you're on a tight budget, start with costs and base your estimation on project priorities, highlighting the critical roles, features, etc.

6. Divide the Work into Project Phases

Next, you'll need to divide your project into manageable parts and tasks.

At this point, you should have a clear understanding of your individual teammates’skills, knowledge, and abilities. Once you've defined the tasks, assign them to your teams.

7. Set Project Milestones

In project management, milestones are markers that highlight the successful completion of a task or a group of tasks. Milestones can help you evaluate task performance.

Through milestones, you can determine what was good, what was poorly done, and what can be improved. In other words, milestones are like meetings, where a team discusses progress, achievements, and challenges.

Most importantly, milestones mark the completion of one phase (or task) and make the execution of the next phase more effective.

8. Conduct Roadmap Review

As mentioned, a roadmap isn't set in stone.

It's not uncommon for unforeseen circumstances to impact your roadmap in ways that may require changing or modifying it. The review stage looks into such proposed changes and the possible risks and challenges of modifying the roadmap.

Roadmap review allows you to stay flexible while ensuring the project goals and objectives remain intact. Having a risk management plan in place can help reduce the negative impact of any proposed changes to the project roadmap.

Wrapping Up

Creating a project roadmap is critical to successful project management. A roadmap provides the big picture and a visual layout of your project flow. You can use it to gain visibility into the project's progress, foster team collaboration, communicate ideas, and so much more.

For your project roadmap to succeed, it needs to be highly visual, flexible, adaptable, and shareable. Using a ready-to-use roadmap template or project management software is an excellent way to ensure this.

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