Roadmaps – Don’t Leave Project Home without Them

In the mass of trees that is your project schedule, it’s way too easy to lose sight of the forest and veer off course while staring at the schedule. What’s a project manager to do?

Do a roadmap! Your roadmap reminds you of what the forest looks like. When you tend to veer off course, your roadmap is your guidepost.

Roadmaps are increasingly used in project management and program management. They are an incredible tool for informing your management and sponsors.

Why are roadmaps so popular? As discussed in another related article, as U.S. Army general and former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “I have found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” That really means that having envisioned the future better prepares you for dealing with it even if it presents itself a bit differently when you get there. Having envisioned it, nothing shows that future more succinctly and clearly than a well-constructed roadmap.

Isn’t Your Roadmap Just a Timeline?

Well, a roadmap is a timeline, but a timeline is not necessarily a roadmap. A timeline is NOT designed to tell the project story. It’s simply a collection of dates.

While any amount of verbiage might tag along with your roadmap, it should visually stand alone. It’s an executive summary.

So let’s think about it. When you think of your project, you first think in terms of major milestones, not the minutiae. That is what you want to show in your roadmap, but it is way too easy to get bogged down in details that confuse the “picture” and frustrate your viewers in the process.

What Your Roadmap Is

Your roadmap includes strategic milestones and shows your business objectives and goals.

  1. One page in size – even if it is accompanied by other text. It stands alone at one level of detail.
  2. For longer term projects, your roadmap ideally shows more detail in the near term and shows less detail in the long term.
  3. It contains primarily milestones with light but insightful annotation.
  4. Ideally, it is data-driven – In a perfect world, your roadmap will be largely data driven. Data driven maps are often spreadsheet based. In the case of Microsoft Visio, it can be driven by a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Unfortunately, spreadsheets don’t often offer the richness of graphical presentation you’d want from a great roadmap. You can even generate a timeline from Microsoft Project, but as discussed, it’s just a starting point for development of your roadmap.
  5. It’s colorful, but useful even without color.
  6. It should be understandable within a minute of first sight, even if further study reveals additional interesting details.
  7. While intended for executive and sponsor audiences, your roadmap is also useful for project personnel.

What Your Roadmap Isn’t

  1. It isn’t scary. If it’s too complicated, many in the intended audience may just give up trying to understand it. The level of detail included is very important and shouldn’t be too great.
  2. It isn’t a Gantt chart. Gant charts are more precise and contain far more detail.
  3. Similarly, it is not a Microsoft Project timeline. Why? First of all, that timeline doesn’t include the kind of rich expression and detail present in a great roadmap. Secondly, such a timeline is a collection of proud accomplishments. Taken together at face value, however, they may not “tell the story” in the way it needs to be told.
  4. It isn’t difficult to keep up to date – because – it isn’t overly detailed.

In an extremely complex project, you could, of course, have two timelines – one for higher level executives and one to summarize.

So What Might Your Roadmap Look Like?

Of course, your timeline phases across the top and swim lanes down the sides will be determined by your processes and your project’s unique intended result. The following example should get your creative communication juices flowing.

So tailor your roadmap to your unique project world. Your audiences will be wowed and grateful.