Few travelers would attempt a drive somewhere new without a road map. An exponentially simpler version of what a driver will see, a map provides touch stones of what’s important to navigation.
Similarly, a strategic road map distills what can be the complicated landscape of an organization’s business strategy into a one-page graphic. It answers three questions: Where are we now? Where do we want to go? How do we get there?
Strategic road maps can be particularly useful to an IT group, since developing one requires alignment with business goals and a common language, says Robert Phaal, professor at the Centre for Technology at the University of Cambridge. Phaal, who has worked with a wide range of companies to develop strategic road maps, says that because road-mapping principles are generic, they can be adapted to any type of company or strategy. They are especially useful in supporting innovation because they translate abstract ideas into something more concrete.
For example, a company that makes display technology uses a road map to illustrate how technologies in the R&D phase are forecasted to progress by showing how they could be used by various products, first for a watch face, then for cell phones and finally for a computer display. Next to a picture of each product is two short lines about its technological features and a few more about its market implications. The display technology road map translates highly technical information into simple visuals and text that leaders outside the IT group can understand.
That simplicity is deceptive, Phaal says. Representatives from across the enterprise must meet and develop the one-page view of business strategy, then synthesize their partial views into a holistic one. Creating the road map also points out gaps in the strategy or ways a project may become a dead end. For these reasons, Phaal says, “Many find the process of road-mapping even more valuable than the road map itself.”