Success in business requires a clear, achievable vision and then taking steps to pursue it. That’s why you need a roadmap — whether you’re managing a small company or taking the reins of your career as a freelancer.
Roadmaps can help you visualize your long-term objectives in ways that equip you to pursue them and communicate them to others who follow your direction. Here’s a look at what a roadmap is, what a roadmap includes, and how to create a good roadmap for your aspirations.
What is a Roadmap?
A roadmap is a visual outline of your desired objectives and the strategic approach you’ll follow to achieve them. This overarching framework specifies your long-term goals and guides your plan of action. It’s a clear, simple way to communicate your definite, long-term objectives to stakeholders, external collaborators, and even those within your organization.
Having a roadmap ensures your entire team, department, or company is unified under a shared vision that motivates daily tasks as well as long-term projects.
This description may sound a lot like a business plan, but they’re not the same. What is the difference between a roadmap and a business plan? A roadmap is high-level strategic, while a business plan is tactical. Essentially, a roadmap is the destination you’re headed toward, while a business plan supplies the directions you’ll follow to get there.
Your plan is the answer to your roadmap, designating short-term efforts that align with your long-term goals. Because of this interrelationship, you may have to adjust your business plan at times to reach the goals of your roadmap or recalibrate your projects to support your objectives.
What does a roadmap include? An effective roadmap requires well-defined, high-level objectives, a target timeframe to achieve those objectives, and any major milestones to reach along the way.
Think of a roadmap as answering the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of your long-term goals.
Participants: Who will be involved in the mission what will they be responsible for doing?
Plan: What will be your strategic approach to achieving your goal?
Timeline: When do you aim to achieve your target and any milestones leading up to it?
Objective: Where do you want your business, product, or team to be X years from now?
Purpose: Why is this your selected vision, and why is it worth pursuing?
Outcome: How will you know you’ve reached your goal? What metrics will determine your success?
Having a business roadmap that answers these questions is beneficial whether you’re a company owner, mid-level manager, or independent freelancer. An actionable strategy facilitates the prioritization of initiatives that support your long-term objectives.
Roadmaps for Project Management & Product Management
There are different types of roadmaps you can use. Each one guides a different rank of your operations or phase of your progress. These are the most common roadmaps.
This is your big-picture vision for what you want to achieve. It identifies your long-term goal and the fundamental initiatives you’ll take to reach it. A business roadmap will lay the foundation for supplementary roadmaps that will guide market analysis and positioning, product development, marketing campaigns, etc.
In the business industry, roadmap tools are commonly used in product management. It defines the product vision and facilitates the formation of a product plan, tracking ancillary projects. Your product roadmap should be helmed by your product owner, as it identifies how the product will support the overarching business goals.
This type of roadmap is essentially a project plan. It takes the product strategy and breaks it down into tactical initiatives in the form of projects or sprints. This guides you as you develop and release new products or amend existing ones by adding new features. Project roadmaps are especially useful if you use agile methodologies. A Gantt chart is a helpful tool to use in tandem with a project roadmap because it allows you to illustrate your project schedules.
Your product marketing efforts will need their own strategy and objectives. This looks beyond the creation and cultivation of your product to how you’ll market it. Use this tool to direct the strategic planning of your marketing efforts, from prerelease campaigns to initial launch to collecting customer feedback and reviews.
This roadmap helms your upcoming IT projects and internal hardware or software rollouts. The owners of the technology roadmap are typically your IT department, team, or an individual expert. They’ll use this to determine the technology tools your organization will use and how they will be distributed. This should be a loose roadmap that can adapt to the flexible planning of an internal software rollout or PC upgrades.
Creating a Good Roadmap
Roadmapping involves assessing your business opportunities to create achievable goals that you can effectively communicate with your team. A good roadmap should promote stakeholder buy-in.
Here is a simple step-by-step guide you can follow when creating a roadmap for your business, product, or professional goals.
Begin with your business: Have an accurate, up-to-date understanding of your company’s state as well as its products and operations. Knowing your opportunities and shortcomings are key in making a realistic roadmap.
Know the context: Do your research outside your company by performing market analyses and projections. You can’t create an effective roadmap in a bubble.
Establish your aim: Consider how you’d like your business to grow. Form SMART goals that you can roll out across your company. Identify the metrics you’ll use to measure your success.
Choose a timeline: Will this be a one-year roadmap, a five-year plan, or a ten-year one?
Keep it flexible: Your roadmap should be able to adapt to unexpected market changes, business hiccups, or workforce losses.
Involve other experts: You should not be the sole person defining the goals for your business. Seek the input of colleagues to get their perspective. Even if you’re an independent freelancer, consult with other freelancers; their experiences can help guide yours.
Depict your plan visually: Create a visual diagram to present your outline. You can find many roadmap examples online for inspiration and even blank roadmap templates to serve as your skeleton.
Make it attractive yet understandable: Visual design is a key element of a good roadmap. You need the visual presentation to be eye-catching yet streamlined to not confuse the viewer. For example, use color to organize rather than to overwhelm.
Consider your audience: Your pitch needs to motivate your team, so you need to recognize their background knowledge and anticipate their questions and communication preferences. How can you present your vision to them understandably and inspiringly?
Use the right level of detail: Don’t get too granular and caught up in the minutiae; that’s what a business plan is for. Don’t be too broad or vague, either, or you could leave listeners scratching their heads. Somewhere in the middle is ideal.
The tools you use can make or break your roadmap, so choose carefully.
You can use a free or paid product, and you can choose one with basic or advanced capabilities. Make sure you use roadmap software that offers integrations with other platforms with interactive, enhanced functionality. It should allow you to link dependencies and refresh your roadmap in real time.
Maintaining an Agile Roadmap
Once you’ve effectively presented and launched your roadmap, you can start distributing responsibilities and projects. Allow product teams to make their own roadmaps so they can start prioritizing initiatives to form into epics in the backlog and tackle more granular elements like user stories.
As your teams proceed on their projects, make sure they have the tools to track and report their progress. That’s why you’ll want structured workflow tracking software like Jira with agile functionality.
This allows you to adapt your roadmap as needed and be aware of setbacks or delays as they occur. The more closely your roadmap aligns with everyone’s projects, the more buy-in you’ll receive.
Freelancers need roadmaps, too. A business strategy isn’t limited to just companies; even an independent contractor or a freelancer can benefit from having a guiding vision for what they’d like to achieve. It will lead you on the professional path you take and inform the projects you take on to hone your skills, develop your connections, and reach your career goals.