Imagine driving in the middle of nowhere, without GPS or even a map, and realizing that you’re lost. You have no idea where you are and what to do next. The same situation could happen to your business when you’re starting to implement a new project. And that's why you need a roadmap.
A roadmap is a prompt for all contributors, shows everyone which stage they are at, and drives them together towards achieving the business goal. If you have never created a project roadmap before and feel a bit overwhelmed thinking about how to do that, you’re in the right place!
Here is a step-by-step checklist that will help you to understand the whole process and ensure that you don’t miss any critical points of the journey.
8 Steps to Create a Software Project Roadmap
Project roadmaps are integral parts of major activities that take place within a business. They give a strategic overview, indicate the most relevant goals, and highlight the project's most critical points. In an IT environment, it’s important to make a project roadmap because you may end up lost without one.
An IT project roadmap is meant to be a kind of summary, the big picture that will show you the essential parts of a project. It's not a project plan; there will be time for that later. Nobody expects a project roadmap to include specific information. Keep it visual, short, and straight to the point.
What should a good project roadmap include?
→ Objectives: Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bounded (SMART).
→ Timeline: The order in which activities will be completed.
→ Scope: A macro view of what the project will accomplish.
→ Milestones: Critical moments that will have an impact on the project phase.
→ Deliverables: The project's output or final results.
→ Risks: Challenges that may cause delay or budget problems.
1. Determine the destination
At the first step, you need to think about your product’s WHY. What is the primary goal of the project? You need to know why you want to develop the project and what you want to accomplish.
The goals will develop as the project grows, so don’t worry if they no longer resemble the ones established at the beginning. Such changes are common. Only 33% of organizations deliver projects that are likely to meet original goals or business objectives.
Furthermore, it would help if you consider whether or not your product will stand out amongst other similar ones on the market. By delivering such information, your project roadmap will form a solid foundation. This knowledge is mainly valuable for stakeholders, who need to be sure that your product is well thought-out and has a great chance to succeed.
Once you have clearly defined your goals, start to think about what you need to do in order to achieve them. Maybe hire a team of experts, obtain special equipment, or learn new skills. All requirements are entirely dependent on the goals and size of the project. If you realize that you need specialized assistance, that is the moment to think about outsourcing the project to a software development company.
2. Identify the audience
Every project has its target users. Identify them. You need to keep them in mind during the entire process. You create the product for them, so its success mainly depends on them. No matter how well-planned the project roadmap is, understanding your audience and its motivations is crucial.
Your roadmap needs to convince the team that the project meets the audience’s expectations and prove that it will achieve success. It needs to give them the confidence to persuade potential customers and honestly believe in its value.
Understanding the audience before starting to create a visual roadmap of the project is very important, otherwise, it might not be tailored to the target users and could become useless.
3. Set a budget and timeframe
Planning a budget has a significant role in building a software development project. By setting it before the stakeholders’ meeting, you’ll be better prepared to give a project roadmap presentation.
After gaining all data about the project, you need to establish a timeframe. A timeline summary doesn’t need to be filled with details. It might be enough to show all goals on a timeline chart or include simple information about the start and the end dates of project implementation.
All activities that are given a certain time frame will follow a logical order. For instance, you cannot start implementing a product before testing, etc., so most activities will be automatically set in time.
However, remember that the roadmap shouldn’t go very far into the future. If your project will take a long time, it’s almost impossible to predict specific data. In this case, you can break the timeline into smaller phases.
4. Define key deliverables & milestones
Deliverables are elements of output within the scope of a project. They’re the action items that need to be delivered in order to complete a particular stage of the project successfully. They are the result of goal-oriented work. Deliverables are usually linked with milestones, but there is a clear difference between them.
A milestone is a specific point of a project when a significant goal is accomplished. Once the project reaches a milestone, the whole process moves onto the next step.
Map out key deliverables and milestones, and explain how they will contribute to the project’s success. You should add milestones to each deliverable. Incorporate them into the timeline to highlight their importance, and make them easier to discuss.
Deliverables and milestones can play a significant role in creating a roadmap for an extensive project. Thanks to them, only the project’s essential points and dates will be highlighted, so the map will be easier to read.
5. Evaluate the risk
Implementing any project involves risk. It’s also worth paying attention to it while drawing up the roadmap. Take a look at the highest impact risks and sum up the mitigation strategies. They don’t have to be only project risks, they can also include financial or even external factors such as market dangers.
Think about what is likely to cause the risk, how often it may occur, and what the consequences for the course of the project might be. Only those that might cause the most significant effects should appear on the roadmap. Ensure that you choose those risks that are crucial and cannot be omitted.
Such a summary shows the stakeholders and people involved in the project that you predict all possible scenarios, and you’re already thinking about taking appropriate precautions.
6. Create a roadmap mock-up
Now you should have all the necessary information to start creating a roadmap. Before sharing it with others, prepare a mock-up. This simplifies decision-making about its appearance and gives you an idea of how the roadmap will look.
The time you invest in preparing a model will pay off. You can start by creating one with a pen or pencil and paper, as traditional methods are sometimes the best option for expanding your field of vision. Then you can begin to create an electronic version of the project roadmap. The more you work on the mock-up, the easier it should be to prepare the final version.
You could also use software that is dedicated to creating project software roadmaps. The templates that are available in such tools might be a great help, especially during the first stage of creation.
Remember what the fundamental assumption about project roadmaps is. They need to be highly visualized and designed so that each stakeholder can know within minutes what it concerns and extract the relevant information from it.
7. Share the roadmap with stakeholders
And we’ve finally got to the main point, which is the moment of sharing the roadmap with stakeholders. However, it doesn’t mean that you should immediately show the whole project to everyone at once.
Start slowly; at the beginning, discuss the matter with the people who will actually work on the project. Check together if your roadmap is realistic, achievable, and that all of the workstreams and activities make sense. You shouldn’t present a project roadmap in a business environment before you are sure that everything has been checked several times. You don’t want to put forward targets that will later prove to be unachievable.
This way, you’ll avoid unwanted misunderstandings, false expectations, and broken promises. Meanwhile, you’ll build up trust from a group of stakeholders who will believe in the project.
8. Stay flexible
Remember that a roadmap is a document that lives with the project, and once created, it needs to be continuously kept up-to-date. A roadmap is on a constant journey, particularly a software project one which operates in a highly variable environment that sometimes takes unexpected turns.
If there are any problems, delays, or gaps in what has already been published, you should immediately create a new version of the roadmap.
It is essential to review your software roadmap, update it with schedule changes, and conduct reviews to show if the team is still on the right track.
It would be best if you can find a balance between the frequency of changes: too rare could mean the project misses a market opportunity or falls far behind schedule, too often may cause the team to lose confidence and decrease their ability to achieve the project’s long-term goals.
The finishing line
It may seem that creating a project roadmap is just an unnecessary extra step in a complex process like developing software, but nothing could be more wrong. It gives the company a lot of time, helps to avoid moments of frustration, and saves money in the long run.
By going through all these steps, creating your roadmap will be a much more comfortable and pleasurable process. Additionally, a high-visibility roadmap will enable more efficient communication between the team, stakeholders, and anyone else related to the project.
You will never forget to take an appropriate roadmap on the product development journey again. Good luck!
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➤ What makes a successful IT project: key elements