What is a project roadmap (& how to use it)?

What is a project roadmap (& how to use it)?

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What does it mean to be a great project manager?

Sure, being able to dive into the little details and fine-tune your strategy down to the hourly task is vital. But you also need to know how to convey your project’s vision quickly.

This is impossible to do without a project plan, which can take weeks (or even months) to deliver.

When you’re trying to get stakeholders and executives on board fast, you need a better tool. In this case, you want to create a project roadmap.

So what is a project roadmap, should you use it, and how do you create one? Let’s find out.

What is a project roadmap?

A project roadmap is a one-page graphical overview that simplifies all the major elements of a project. This includes high-level milestones, key deliverables, objectives, timeline, potential risks, dependencies, and resources. 

Understanding the elements that make up a project roadmap will ensure you properly implement it for your project management.

You may need to customize your roadmap to suit your project or business, but here’s what’s typically included in a project roadmap:

  • Project overview: Several sentences concisely explaining objectives, priorities, and goals for each initiative.
  • Key milestones: Hypothetical dates (can change later) for the larger milestones of the project, such as critical delivery dates.
  • Timeline overview: Doesn’t include day-to-day details, just a high-level overview of when initiatives will begin and end (often shown on a Gantt chart).
  • Dependencies: Summary of important links or relationships between essential deliverables and activities.
  • Key contacts: The main team members who will work on the project (includes contact information).
  • Resource allocation: High-level labor and/or cost estimates for completing the project (including hiring talent).

With a roadmap in hand, you and your stakeholders will have a better idea of the project scope and potential issues to watch out for.

Side note: You can make a roadmap without dates in the early stages of project initiation. In this case, you can use our projects overview template or a Gantt chart that showcases the number of weeks or months instead of inputting specific dates.

A screenshot of the projects overview template from Monday.com

What’s the difference between a roadmap and a project plan?

It’s easy to confuse a project roadmap with a project plan. And if you’re not careful, your roadmap could turn into a project plan if it contains too much detail.

This is the key difference between the two — a project plan is more in-depth (low-level).

Plus, while it can be visual (if you use our project planning template) it’s usually a lengthy written document.

The project plan covers the more detailed scope of the project, including:

  • Project costs
  • How many people you’ll need
  • All other resources required
  • Project goal(s)
  • Deliverables, milestones, and tasks
  • Client approval process
  • Potential issues and risks
  • Schedule (phases, start and end dates)

Since a project plan is more detailed, it’ll be longer than a project roadmap.

Here’s an example of a project plan template.

an example of a project plan template.

(Image Source)

And here’s an example of a project roadmap template.

an example of a project roadmap template.

(Image Source)

When is it ideal to use a project roadmap?

What’s great about project management is you have more than one tool to use to accomplish goals. However, it can be tricky finding the methods that work best for your team’s projects.

When it comes to choosing between a project roadmap or project plan, which should you use? It depends on your purpose and audience.

Let’s break it down.

What are the pros and cons of project roadmaps?

A project roadmap is ideal when you (the project manager) want to quickly convey important information to your project stakeholders (people who care about the project.) It helps draw focus to the essentials so no one gets bogged down in the messy details.

A roadmap is an awesome tool for quickly briefing executives and other people who want a general idea of what the project is about and how it’s going to work, but could care less about how you’ll run it day-to-day.

It’s also great for the early days of a project when you haven’t worked out all the details yet. IHI Corporation improved organization and collaboration using a roadmap to help plan ahead.

On the flip side, a project roadmap is a horrible way to try to keep the people ‘in the weeds’ up to date (i.e., your project team) once your project is underway.

The people doing the actual work should know what’s in the roadmap, but their main focus is the task(s) at hand. They need to see the nuts and bolts of the project, like what you’d find in a daily task tracker.

An example of a daily task tracker template.

How do you create a successful project roadmap?

Developing a project roadmap doesn’t start with a pen and paper. There are key steps (and documents) required before this point.

So let’s jump right in.

What to do before project roadmapping?

There are two things that most companies require before you ever get to creating your roadmap:

1. Write a business case: Describe the project and justify why you’re undertaking it. Outline the benefits, costs, and risks. It’s high-level analysis — nothing too in-depth. The purpose is to get buy-in and approval first.

(If you haven’t drafted your business case yet, you can use our project proposal template to get it done.)

An example of a project proposal template

2. Write a project charter: After you get approval, the charter will outline key points of the project, such as major milestones and deliverables, key stakeholders, assumptions, schedule overview, and resource allocation.

Some companies might skip the charter as most, if not all, of this info will also be in your roadmap — just in a different format.

Steps to creating your roadmap

All the information you need for your roadmap is likely already laid out in your business case and charter. So, once you’ve gathered these documents, you’re ready to create your visual roadmap.

Step #1: Start with a template

Building your roadmap from a template saves time and makes sure your project roadmaps always look the same. Check out our project roadmap template to get started:

A screenshot of a project roadmap template from Monday.com

Step #2: Input your essential project information

Now it’s time to populate all the data we talked about above. This includes:

  1. The goals/objectives for your project (along with potential risks)
  2. The benefits of reaching these objectives/goals
  3. A high-level timeline showing the entire scope of the project with prospective delivery dates
  4. Workstreams for each of the teams working on the project (marketing, IT, sales, etc.)
  5. High-level activities to be completed (think overall weekly/monthly tasks, not daily/hourly)
  6. Defined project milestones (getting funding, finding a vendor/contracts, completing the code, etc.)

Step #3: Involve your stakeholders

Even if all you’re doing is pulling information from a pre-approved charter, it’s still a huge mistake to create your roadmap by yourself.

Remember, this document is going to be shown around to people as a brief visual summary of the project.

So, take the time to involve your key stakeholders (like your client and project sponsor) and get their buy-in.

The last thing you want is to be showing off your project roadmap only to find out that your client believes there’s a critical delivery that was left out from the milestone list.

Fortunately, if you’re using our product roadmap template it’s easy to invite others to check it out right in the monday.com software.

An example of a product roadmap template

Step #4: Update, update, update

Projects change all the time, especially if you’re taking an Agile approach.

Don’t create a roadmap only to store it somewhere and forget about it. As timelines, resources, milestones, or dependencies change, update your map.

It shouldn’t be ‘retired’ until the project is over. This is where a digital Work OS really comes in handy — It’s a lot less time-consuming, tedious, and error-prone to update than a paper or spreadsheet-based roadmap.

Conclusion

Roadmapping can be a critical step in gauging where you are now and where you want to go — and most importantly, how to get there. It’s instrumental for getting client buy-in and stakeholders on board.

If so, then you may find our project roadmap template useful when it comes time to create your next project roadmap!

Get our project roadmap template now!

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