A strategic roadmap is a time-based plan that defines where a business is in their lifecycle, where it wants to go, and how to get it there. It is a visual representation that organizes and presents important information that should (but not must) require buy in from all key stakeholders of an organization to ensure full alignment across the board of the very people that run various departments.

Strategic roadmaps are a common approach to planning and alignment. They are an effective communication tool for managers, and link strategic initiatives with business plans and product development. Roadmapping acts as a focusing device that marshals efforts toward achieving important goals and are an important discipline that all businesses should go through.

 

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas.”

– Steve Jobs

 

So what exactly is a roadmap?  Well, there are plenty of SaaS companies that offer services which allow you to build and collaborate with your team in the cloud. They have all types of pre-designed templates that make things pretty and visual, but call me old fashion, I still like my roadmaps built in spreadsheets. To be fair, I still use a cloud option like Google Sheets to make it easy to collaborate with my team. Comments, notifications and color coding make it incredibly easy to track and simple to distribute among all key stake holders. Tabs in spread sheets and formulas that carry across sheets also make it easy to effectively roadmap your entire organization across: Product, Marketing, Finance, Vision, OKRs and any other initiatives that add up to the sum of your efforts as a mission driven organization.
Roadmaps have three primary functions:
  1. Prioritization
    The roadmap will serve as a reference point when discussing changing and how to set priorities. It will help key-stake-holders understand how to balance priorities and visualize trade-offs.
  2. Planning
    Plan time, resources and capital needs. Only 11% of managers say they have the resources they need to pursue the company’s strategic objectives. And I can’t tell you how many times (before roadmapping of course) We ran ran ran….ran through product development, only to “unexpectedly” bump into a temporary or permanent capital constraints, due to lack of proper forecasting. The roadmap will help anticipate resource needs and capital needs way ahead of time and make it possible to integrate key projects into each department’s day-to-day plans.
  3. Accountability
    Create individual and department-level accountability for execution. It will help “owners” clearly understand and define how they should balance existing initiatives with new requests and issues. It SHOULD keep people on track when other business needs arise. Active management of the roadmap will result in better executive alignment and stakeholder buy-in before projects even begin, and give those accountable a smoother road to success.
Here are a few different types of roadmaps that can help you run your organization and meet your goals better. (They’ve certainly helped mine)
  1. Marketing Roadmaps
    A marketing roadmap highlights key projects and priorities across all marketing channels, functions and campaigns, creating clarity in the chaos. It lays out all priorities and initiatives marketing is responsible for—such as content, digital advertising, events, lead generation and other forms of outreach. Creating an in-depth marketing roadmap surfaces a team’s highest priorities and keeps all of its marketers on track.
  2. HR Roadmaps
    This roadmap is incredibly helpful for organizations to catch gaps in talent, ensuring that your organization is adequately resourced and that growth is properly planned for and balanced across departments. Each department leader can also use this roadmap to flag what resources they need and identify when their team will hit critical mass, triggering a need to bring in new people.
  3. Product Roadmaps
    For product-driven companies—such as B2B SaaS companies or consumer-facing apps, a product roadmap is essential to development  alignment. A product roadmap illustrates product strategy and demonstrates how it may evolve over time. It should include upcoming features and a layout and schedule of product development, which often includes things like technical requirements, resource allocation and budget.
  4. Technology Roadmaps
    Some organizations employ a technology roadmap to monitor technology considerations, infrastructure and resources within their product’s research and development teams. Other organizations use a technology roadmap to visualize the administration of internal processes and systems, like information security audits and tracking employee hardware.
  5. Project Roadmaps
    A project roadmap is different from a project plan. While a project plan tracks each and every tactical detail, a project roadmap instead provides an overview of the most important components and milestones (i.e. the big picture). It aligns teams on key milestones and keeps everyone on the right path to ensure a successful outcome.
  6. Strategic Roadmaps
    A strategic roadmap is used to communicate an organization’s vision and mission, illustrating the key steps required to bring these two things to fruition. This roadmap is accessible to every employee, and it helps ensure that every department is innovating and working on initiatives that serve the organization’s bigger strategic goals.This particular roadmap is created and championed by senior-level stakeholders at the C / Founder -Level.

In my opinion, the best roadmaps are the ones that incorporate all of the above ideas into one, comprehensive roadmap that fully engages your organization into all key areas of tracking and planning. And while you can certainly break out a roadmap for any key area of your organization that each key department head is in charge of, I truly love the ones that are built across all departments and initiatives, yes they can get unwieldy, but when kept up to date, they are immensely effective. Especially in today’s economy where more and more companies are going remote and departments are distributed across the world.

But, at the end of the day, roadmaps are only as good as the people using them and leaning on them for some type of guarantee is unrealistic. But as the saying goes, “If you fail to prepare, you should prepare to fail. Roadmaps are an incredibly valuable discipline and exercise I would encourage every founder ,business owner and C level executive to go through, either before even starting your project or at very least, very early on in the lifecycle of building your business. Even if you’re years into building your business it’s never really to late to implement a roadmap, there’s always something that can be uncovered or rectified with proper implementation.

 

Here’s an effective roadmap that I’ve been using across my companies and startups I advise as well. During advisory services I typically walk founders through building out the initial information and planning, review it weekly with them, challenge them to rethink (Always happens) some of their initial entries and work with them until a realistic, goal oriented plan is in place that they can execute on with confidence.