What is Project Roadmap & How to prepare it?
A project roadmap is a visual tool representing the essential goals and milestones of a project plotted out on a timeline. It should give an uncomplicated overview of the work progress and whether or not the development is on track to hit its milestones. Important to note is that a project roadmap is not the same as a project plan.
While both are outlined before the project starts and are used to supervise the progress, they have a different set of objectives! Whereas the project plan is used to break down the development into individual and more easily manageable tasks, the project roadmap does not worry about the day-to-day cumbersome details of the project, and rather focuses on the big picture perspective which lets the team and the management know if the project is on time or not.
Elements of a project roadmap
Now that we’ve defined what a project roadmap is, let’s talk a bit more in-depth about its essential features. The project roadmap consists of:
- Objectives: what are your targets and goals and when do you expect to reach them?
- Milestones: specific points in a project’s life cycle that signal the completion of a certain phase or key point in the process.
- Deliverables: the end results of the developmental process such as: a report, document, software, finished product, etc.
- Resource Allocation: what are the costs and required personnel, and how will they be distributed?
- Risks: what are the potential obstacles that could arise with regards to team members, resources, task activities, or any other internal or external factor?
- Project Timeline: by plotting out all the objectives, milestones, resources etc. in one timeline, you can accurately visualize the project progress and spot any risk factors.
Benefits and Challenges
Having a clear plan of action and a timeline is the most obvious advantage of creating a Project Roadmap. But what does that mean exactly, and what are the less-apparent benefits of a project roadmap?
The advantages of creating a project roadmap are:
Facilitates information sharing
A well-drafted project roadmap can share important information with stakeholders in a quick and clear manner. All persons working on and otherwise involved in the project should be able to view and understand the project roadmap. This makes sure everyone is on the same page – including the stakeholders – allowing you to more easily determine the non-debatable vs. the more flexible features of the project!
Foundation of the project plan
In the beginning of every project, there are so many unknowns which can discourage both stakeholders and team members. By creating a project roadmap we get rid of some of the uncertainty and form an overall plan of action! This helps form the initial project tasks, and later make it easy to completely expand the project roadmap into a project plan.
Manages project goals
An up-to-date project roadmap serves as a status update for all concerned individuals and groups. This includes any changes the stakeholders decide to make which can hinder the project’s initial objectives. A project roadmap makes it simpler to manage such situations, and keep the focus on the project goals.
Naturally, there are going to be challenges accompanying those benefits, which include:
Unrealistic planning practices
Often, projects are planned with an unrealistic timeline, which leads to delays, costly changes, and compromised reputation down the line. This is one of the most common practical problems that occur while creating a project roadmap – the ones that are higher up the hierarchy or can speak more authoritatively usually have the last say in planning the project.
Too many details
Too many details are just as bad as too few details. The project roadmap is a high-level view, and too many unnecessary minutiae will overcomplicate it, thereby defeating its usefulness.
Updating the roadmap
If the project roadmap is not up to date, the entire project will be delayed. As it often happens in project planning, members of the team get together before the project has started, and they plan the project in an ideal way. But once the project is up-and-running and new challenges emerge every week, every team member gets busy with their own challenges and often doesn’t have the time or the motivation to keep updating the roadmap. In dysfunctional teams, team members even actively try to hide delays, hoping that it would all be solved soon and that everything would be back on track! Of course, this creates mistrust and further hinders any real project planning. To avoid this, team members must regularly communicate their progress with all parties involved, and an environment of trust should be maintained in the team at all times!
Lack of buffer
Most roadmaps in real life are made assuming everything shall happen exactly as per plan. While this is also the idea behind just-in-time manufacturing and project planning, sometimes some unplanned delays can cause a cascading effect on the whole project – something that should be very apparent in the current semiconductor crisis that has derailed the world’s automotive industry!
How to roadmap a project?
Now that you know the why, let’s turn to the how – how to prepare a roadmap for a project?
- Define project objectives. These are detailed together with the client during the initial meetings with the development team, where the entire project scope is determined.
- Define measurable data points. These will be used for tracking your progress, and for measuring how you are achieving your objectives.
- Create a timeline. When you plot out your project timeline and milestones on a calendar you get a realistic idea of the duration of the whole project.
- Create a trial roadmap. Using the predetermined tools and software, create a mock-up project roadmap charting all the relevant variables. This mock-up is then reviewed to see if it provides an accurate portrayal of the objectives and how to accomplish them.
- Create the project roadmap. Once the trial roadmap is revised and corrected, you can proceed with detailing the final project roadmap.
- Client review. The stakeholders assess the project roadmap and suggest any changes they feel are needed.