Due to all of the minutia of a project, it’s easy for a project manager to get lost in the details, and lose track of the big picture. But how can you remove yourself from the daily deadlines and issues that always are popping up, and take the time to see the entire project landscape to ensure you’re heading in the right direction?
Fortunately, there is a space set aside for that high-level overview to keep a project on track: it’s called the project roadmap. And, like its namesake, you want to have one. The last thing a project manager (or anyone leading a project) should do is blindly go forth; sometimes it’s necessary to pull over and ask directions.
What Is a Project Roadmap?
A project roadmap is the strategic plan that explains the goal of the project. It sets out the major points that must be accomplished in order to reach that outcome, which are called milestones.
Because it acts as a guide, the project roadmap is also a communication tool. It is the overall document that speaks to the strategy of the project and why that strategy is being engaged. Therefore, the project roadmap helps everyone working on the project to understand the project, regardless of what piece they might be working on.
As mentioned above, milestones are the major destinations en route to your project objective. These are dated in a project schedule to break down the time allotted for the project to make sure everything is done within an acceptable timeframe.
Tasks & Assignments
Another aspect of the project roadmap is ownership. That means that the roles and responsibilities of all those involved in the project are outlined. The project roadmap defines who is doing what and then those tasks can be tracked.
Not everything can be so sharply defined, of course, which is why the project roadmap has something called “fuzzy time.” This is a technique that allows tasks that cannot be clearly pinned down to reside in a looser time bucket. Now they are identified and can be tracked without fear of them falling between the cracks.
A Project Roadmap Has Limits
While it is a crucial document in the planning of any project, a project roadmap is not an uber-document. It has and needs limitations in order to do its job. For example, a project roadmap is not a backlog or a to-do list. A backlog is more granular in its mission, collecting tasks. A project roadmap works with a backlog, but it speaks to larger, higher-level stages, such as milestones.
A roadmap is also not a project management tracker. Again, tracking is discussed in the project roadmap, but the discussion is more from a bird’s-eye view. It would not be practical to use this perspective to track tasks, meetings, etc. Instead, a project management software is better designed for this daily task tracking.
Features are not listed in a project roadmap either. The project roadmap is a high-level plan with overarching strategic goals and major stages of the project, not minutia, which has a place elsewhere. Features are not an effective measure of those objectives. Neither does a feature list help with communications.
Other things that must not be confused with a project roadmap are a project plan, which is a far more detailed list of what is necessary to make the project a success, including resource management, schedule, critical path, etc. It is also not a project charter, which does help communications between the project team and stakeholders, but the project roadmap is for a larger audience.
What Goes into a Project Roadmap?
In order to create a project roadmap, one must first know the ingredients that are needed. Project managers, who are usually dealing with the details of a daily slough through a project, must lift their heads from that close view to see the larger picture.
The project roadmap must be visual and manageable in length, so it can be easily digestible by all involved in the project. If it can fit on one page, better still. Think of the project roadmap like you would an actual map. It shows you the whole landscape and puts your trip in context.
The key ingredients needed to cook up a succinct and effective project roadmap are as follows:
- Project Overview: The main thrust of any project roadmap is the high-level goals and objectives of the project. There is no need to go into great detail here; you’re not writing a novel. Think of it as the coverlines in a magazine. They explain what you can expect inside, where other documents will dive deeper into the project. Part of this is to understand in a broad sense the project risks and quality that is expected of the final product or service of the project.
- Schedule Overview: The same holds for the schedule. It must be addressed, but you’re not creating a date book with specific dates and times. That, again, is for another document. Here just outline the general timeline, but do set hard deadlines for major stages, such as milestones. What you’re making is a project scope statement.
- Key Milestones: Speaking of milestones, these should also be included in the project roadmap. They’re like big cities that you’ll pass through on your journey to a final destination. Having them in the project roadmap is a good way to know how far you’ve gone and how much further you have to go to get there. In a sense, this is an overview of the project’s baselines.
- Dependencies: Again, only from a high-level view, note the important deliverables and how they’re connected to a successful project.
- Resources: Note the resources you’ll need to get the project done.
- Contact: List the key people on the project team and how to reach them.
- Kickoff Meeting: Meet about the roadmap and make sure expectations are clear to all. (Be sure to have a kickoff meeting agenda prepared.)
Project Roadmap Tips
When creating a project roadmap, make sure that it can accomplish the following things:
- It should quickly and easily communicate the overall project objectives and goals.
- Stakeholder expectations are managed by making sure everyone involved in the project understands the basic reason for the project. While a project roadmap isn’t written in stone, it still helps to have a place where everyone can see what the project’s strategy is.
- Communication is one of the fundamental aspects of a project roadmap, and it should be able to speak to everyone on the project.
- The project roadmap is a tool to help make big decisions. By looking back at the project roadmap, the main thrust of the project is clear, and that information will inform your decision-making.
- Update the project roadmap so that it remains an accurate snapshot of where the project currently is, not of what it looked like while in the planning stage. In a sense, it’s an overview status report for those who need an update.
- Make sure the project roadmap is realistic or else there will be delays, cost overruns and expectations will not be met.
- The team must always share their progress with the rest of the project group to keep everyone on the same page and not corrupt the integrity of the project roadmap.
- Avoid getting bogged down in the weeds. There’s a place for those details, but it’s not on the project roadmap.
- While a project roadmap is an overview, that view shouldn’t be too long-term or too difficult, or it could be counterproductive to the productivity of the project team.
What Tools Can You Use to Create a Project Roadmap?
In order to define the project plan and its key components, assign roles and responsibilities, identify key stakeholders, develop a project scope statement, note project baselines, risks and quality of the project and develop a communication plan—you’ll need help. These are a lot of things to keep track of and display in an easy-to-understand format that can be shared with the whole project group.
There are many project management software products that address one or some parts of this larger whole. The struggle is to find a one-stop solution that can act as a planning tool, has a collaborative platform to not only help share the project roadmap but make it simple for teams update their status and then track the milestones of the project to make sure that you’re keeping to the schedule.
ProjectManager.com offers all that and more. It has the features to deal efficiently with the details of everyday project management but also the broad strokes necessary to compose a project roadmap. Its online Gantt charts gives both a high-level view of the project as well as a place to collect and assign tasks that then can be updated anywhere and at any time. The real-time dashboard then reflects these changes as they happen, so everyone sees exactly where the project is and can address issues before they become problems.
ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software, which means data is collected in real time, and teams can access the tools even if they’re working remotely. Our software offers a collaborative platform and the ability to communicate at the task level to make sure that the project roadmap always reflects that latest information. See how it can help you create a project roadmap and manage its execution by taking this free 30-day trial.