by Peter B. Nichol

How to navigate the maze of business roadmaps

Feb 01, 2018
Digital TransformationEnterpriseIT Strategy

Transformation goes beyond ideas. Create a roadmap for making your business strategy actionable.

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Credit: Thinkstock

Business roadmaps establish a linkage from corporate strategies (the why) to releases (the when) and finally to features (the what) in a chronological plan. Strategic goals that are visually represented in a business roadmap keep stakeholders aligned and on track.

Business development assumes that the operational strategy can be successfully executed. That’s not always the case. A roadmap for business introduces the concept of continuous evolution toward an unknown objective. We know, in general, where we need to go, but there are small details around how to get there. That’s acceptable if we capture what we know today.

Roadmaps present visions in two forms: staged and continuous. The staged format concentrates on a specific start and end to the business journey. For example, in healthcare, there might be a roadmap that starts at the first contact with the patient and ends with the last contact for that specific episode of care. The benefit of a staged approach is that there’s a clear start and finish that needs to be mapped. The challenge is that iterative processes—critical processes or capabilities that ebb and flow—may be left out of the map and, therefore, impact our future strategy.

The mystique of cartography

Maps help humans make sense of physical and mental worlds. Maps and other visual representations of the physical world go back to 14,500 BCE. The Lascaux caves mapped out pieces of the night sky, capturing three brilliant stars: Vega, Deneb, and Altair (the Summer Triangle asterism) as well as the Pleiades star cluster. Spain’s Cuevas de El Castillo illustrate the Corona Borealis constellation from 12,000 BCE in a dot map. And the ancient maps painted across Babylon, Greece, and Asia helped cultures define, explain, and navigate throughout the world. The history of map-making is vast; however, surprisingly, the modern rebirth of cartography is not.

“Cartographic” was coined in 1839 as a Portuguese neologism by Viscount de Santarem. The word was adopted by mapmakers quickly, who were rebranded as “cartographers.” The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was slow to embrace the modern nomenclature of mapmaking—cartographer (1859), cartographic (1880), and cartogram (1890)—and it didn’t adopt cartography until 1934. Even by 1920, only two universities offered courses in cartography.

Designing your roadmap

Cartographers were part artist and part sculptor. Their visions were unique, and they could assemble pieces that individually might not have significant value but together formed a new structure—a future state. Business leaders, project managers, and business-relationship managers today have similar potential to chart the future of their businesses. Here are some tips to help you identify which roadmap will be most effective.

Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) recognizes five types of roadmaps for organizations:

  1. Project roadmap: for project management-related goals or business problems
  2. Product roadmap: for product-related goals; e.g., for improved product quality or business problems
  3. Product integration roadmap: for product-assembly goals or business problems; e.g., when integrating with technology components (software or hardware)
  4. Process roadmap: for process management-related goals or business problems
  5. Measurement roadmap: for measurement-related goals or business problems

Project roadmaps ensure projects meet their requirements. Product roadmaps help to develop products that meet the customer’s needs with improved quality. Product integration roadmaps link integration processes to validate that the overall ecosystem will meet its requirements. Process roadmaps create the capabilities to define, implement, and improve organizational processes. Measurement roadmaps identify, select, and measure improvements based on quantitative information.

Begin by determining which type of business roadmap you’re going to create.

Fundamentals of business roadmapping:

  • Strategy (why)
  • Release (when)
  • Features (what)

11 steps to building a business roadmap:

  1. Vision: an aspirational view of the organization’s future
  2. Business model: how the organization creates value
  3. Market: insights into the organization’s customers, competitive position, and perspective on customer value
  4. Personas: fictional representations of user types consuming the organization’s products, services, or interactions
  5. Challenges and strengths: problems facing the organization and approaches to overcoming them
  6. Strategic goals: general statements about the desired achievement
  7. Initiatives: the organizational strategy linked to action (projects and programs)
  8. Release: when initiatives will be deployed across the organization
  9. Features: distinctive business attributes that will be part of each release
  10. Requirements: functional and non-functional details that comprise each feature
  11. Ideas: potential concepts that may or may not align with the business vision or strategy

Multiple approaches can result in the creation of an effective and informative business roadmap. One element is consistent across all methods: consensus. Regardless of the method, at some point, business partners and providers must be aligned with the intent and realization of the roadmap. Does it make sense? Is the business roadmap realistic? Once alignment has been established, you have a working model that can be elaborated on in the future.

In addition to the traditional business roadmap, several other supplemental documents may be helpful when presenting how the business roadmap will be operationalized:

  • Strategy summary heat map: charts the purpose and impact of strategies
  • Strategy goals table: lists goals and their value to the business
  • Strategic goals by release: links strategic goals (why we’re doing this) with releases (when it’s going to get done)
  • Initiatives by release: deconstructs projects into pieces with specific timing
  • Portfolio timeline: illustrates how value will be delivered to the business
  • Product timeline: outlines the evolution of a product, service, or integration over time (often feature- or capabilities-based)
  • Release timeline: shows the timing of deployments
  • Features timeline: charts when functionality will be released and usable
  • Feature planning board: features ideas with the highest impact for the business partner and their rough timing
  • Ideas list and chart: lists innovative ideas to address operational and strategic goals
  • Progress chart: measures the value provided over time with quantifiable metrics (proving value delivered)

Each of these views provides additional context to the business map. The additional information fills in operational gaps, thereby improving communication. The benefit of a linked model—from corporate strategies to releases and finally to features —is that whatever is created is actionable and measurable.

Tools for business roadmapping

The market is loaded with tools that make drafting a business roadmap straightforward. Three, top-tier, popular tools include:

Aha! offers a fast and effective method to link strategies to releases to features. LinkedIn, CONCUR, SIEMENS, and DELL all support Aha!, and it also has amazing integration with Jira Software, PivotalTracker, Rally, GitHub, Bitbucket, FogBugz, slack, Trello, zendeck, and more. Aha! enables teams to crowdsource ideas, connect viable ideas into the roadmap, define features and requirements, share beautiful roadmaps, and analyze progress. Additionally, all the supplemental documents above are supported in the product.

ProductPlan enables you to pull your roadmap strategy together into one place. Used by Gov.UK, CITRIX, Starbucks, NASA, INTUIT, Hulu, and more, ProductPlan helps teams prioritize their initiatives, convey the big picture, link roadmaps (mobile, web, platform, portfolio, etc.), visualize relationships, build roadmaps with ease, perform smarter planning and prioritization, communicate strategy effectively, and show progress.

Roadmunk is visual roadmap software for product management. Roadmunk also has a strong following including Citibank, Amazon, and slack. Roadmunk is best for teams that must hit the ground running and have a need to collaborate directly with the roadmap. It presents roadmaps with clarity and confidence and helps connect strategy across the whole organization.

Also worth exploring: Craft, ProdPad, Roadmap, and Wizeline.

Does your map chart a course?

Business roadmaps come in many forms. They can be fledgling ideas born on a coffee napkin or comprehensive illustrations of strategies that communicate their operationalization.

Ask yourself a few questions to validate your map’s success:

  1. Is the vision vivid and does it communicate a clear focus for the organization?
  2. Does the business model explain how the organization will create and capture value in the marketplace?
  3. Has the market assessment taken into consideration risk factors such as PESTEL (political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and legal)?
  4. Are the products, services, and interactions articulated and aligned to the future state?
  5. Have discussions occurred to define, analyze, and strategize how to address current and future business problems?
  6. Does the roadmap illustrate how strategies link to initiatives that, in turn, link to known and unknown problems?
  7. Is there strategic traceability: linking strategic goals to initiatives to releases to features to requirements to ideas?

Idea pipelines feed roadmaps

Ideas are created across the organization. Business-partner and provider teams alike generate ideas to transform and advance existing capabilities for tomorrow’s success. Where are these ideas captured? In meeting minutes that are rarely revisited or buried in emails to a select group of folks? As a change agent, your role is to effect change. By creating an idea pipeline, you’ll have a continuous process to capture, track, and advance great ideas—which should be part of every business roadmap. Roadmap programs such as Aha! provide great methods to capture ideas not ready to be a project but that nevertheless connect to your roadmap. Be sure to clearly identify the status of each idea. This will identify if the idea is embryonic or already implemented.

Process steps for organizational ideas:

  1. Needs review
  2. Likely to implement
  3. Already exists
  4. Will not implement
  5. Unlikely to implement
  6. Planned
  7. Implemented

Business roadmaps add value because they link strategy to releases to features— emphasizing the strategic importance at each step. Prioritizing projects is easier if you link each project to a strategic goal. You don’t need to be a noteworthy artist and sculptor to develop a business roadmap. You do need to develop a method to communicate the vision across the organization. Simply brainstorm, capture, qualify, and align ideas into strategic priorities.