Back to all posts
Libby Marks

How to Create a Project Roadmap: The Simplest Guide

So you want to create a project roadmap — but don't know where to start? Here are some tips.

It is undeniable that proper project planning in the early stages of a project is essential and leads to more successful projects. One activity that seals this planning process is creating a project roadmap.

In this article, we'll take a look at what makes a great project roadmap. We'll also show you how to create a project roadmap in Runn that's easy to maintain, share with stakeholders, manage team priorities, and stay informed of any changes that impact the success of your project.

What is a project roadmap?

A project roadmap is a visual representation of the key phases, milestones, and timelines of a project. It’s a bird’s eye view of the project - shown chronologically from initiation to completion - to provide a high-level overview for project stakeholders.

A project roadmap is typically presented in a single view, with a horizontal timeline showing start and end dates. Colored rows, stacked vertically, represent different project phases, tasks, or teams. 

By consulting the project roadmap, everyone involved can quickly understand what should be happening and what critical tasks should have been achieved.  

Created by the project manager, a project roadmap exists within a suite of project documentation to help managers plan, execute, and monitor projects effectively. 

It often sits within a project charter - which is a written explanation of a project - and is the precursor to the project schedule - which goes into more depth and detail. More on this later.

What is the purpose of a project roadmap?

A project roadmap is essentially a communication tool, setting out the key components of the project - such as critical events, dependencies, and sequence of activities - so all stakeholders are on the same page about how a project will be executed. 

It’s also a way to monitor and manage a project. Phases and milestones provide indicators of progress so you and your team can keep track. Fail to meet those milestones and you know it’s time to course-correct - or adjust your plan. 

A project roadmap supports strong project performance because it:

  • Provides clarity - A roadmap builds transparency and accountability into the project, so you can keep the project on track
  • Ensures alignment - By getting all team members, suppliers, and stakeholders on the same page
  • Enhances communication - By providing a visual guide for team huddles and stakeholder updates
  • Reduces risk - By helping PMs identify and mitigate potential problems in the project
  • Optimizes resources - By sequencing critical tasks and planning the resources required 

It’s called a roadmap for a reason

If you've ever been on a long drive, you know that it's not hard to get lost — and once you're lost, it can be even harder to find your way back. The same can be true for a project: If you don't have the right map, it can feel like you're wandering aimlessly with no direction.

An easy way to understand a project roadmap is to think of a literal map. Imagine you’re planning an epic drive across America’s Route 66. You need a map to know where you’re going and when. 

A roadmap shows your main stops along the way so you can navigate between them in the most direct way. 

You also need to include timings because there’ll be people affected by them and they need to be properly prepared. When do you expect to arrive at certain destinations? What needs to happen when you get there? 

Plus, without timings, how do you know if you’re rushing things - or running late? Your roadmap sets the pace.

A project roadmap shows the headline news to people involved in your journey - like your route and cities you’re visiting - but not details like hotel rooms or check-in times.

Or in project terms - your phases, milestones and deliverables - but not the specific tasks and day-to-day schedule. 

Project roadmap example

how to create a project roadmap

A typical project roadmap template can, at times, resemble a to-do list, where you need to tick things off the list one by one and go chronologically. 

Suppose you’re building a project roadmap for a feature release — you could break the roadmap into milestones, with each milestone marking the end of a meaningful unit of work or phase in the project. You could also break it in a way that shows which departments are accountable. For example, the first milestone is the part where the product team plans the feature, the second milestone — the engineering team developing the feature, the third milestone — your QA team testing it, next — bug fixes and then release and marketing, etc. 

As shown in the sample from Runn above, it’s best that each milestone in your project management roadmap gets color-coded for better visual perception. Your project planning roadmap should also list relevant experts, deadlines, and other things.

So let’s look into that in more detail here. 

What should a project roadmap include?

Regardless of who uses it, your roadmap should answer these questions:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • How are we going to do it?
  • When will we start and finish?
  • Who is responsible for each step of the process?

To provide clear-cut answers to the questions above, make sure that your project roadmap tools can cover the following key components:

1. Project start and end date

A project roadmap should visualize the head and the tail of your project, for internal and external stakeholders to understand. 

This is pretty self-explanatory, but if you're trying to manage your time effectively and make sure you don't miss deadlines or have things fall through the cracks, knowing when your project ends can be invaluable. 

You should also think about when the project will start — if it's an ongoing process, you need to keep track of the different stages of development. This can help you plan ahead and make sure you're taking action at the right times so that nothing falls behind schedule or goes missing altogether.

2. Project phases

Project phases are distinct time-bound stages within a project roadmap. 

They represent a set of related tasks and actions that deliver specific progress towards the overall project outcome. 

Phases follow on from one another sequentially - the end of phase one marks the beginning of phase two, etc. Typically, each phase leads to a project milestone. But you can have milestones within phases too.

Breaking a project roadmap into phases makes a complex project more manageable. Each phase is like a mini-project - complete with its own budget and controls. This makes it easier for project managers to monitor and manage the phase - and keep things on track.

In the example above, you’ll see we’ve broken down our moon base project into phases for:

  • Preparing life support
  • Preparing food supply
  • Traveling to the moon
  • Building the moon base

Each phase is color-coded to make it easy to see the start and end dates of each phase. 

It's also good to include a short description of what each phase will cover so you can keep everyone informed of where the project currently stands and what still needs to be done next.

3. Project milestones

Milestones are sort of like mini-goals for your project — they're smaller objectives that need to be achieved before you can move forward.

Project milestones are markers along the way that indicate what to expect by a certain point in time (for instance, the completion of an important task or the end of a phase). A sample milestone could be "By April 1st, we'll have a prototype ready."

milestones on a project schedule

4. Dependencies

You need to include dependencies in your project roadmap. This means when one activity is dependent on the completion of another. 

By identifying dependencies at this early stage, you can build a better timeline, align different collaborators, and reduce the risk of bottlenecks.

It also ensures stakeholders understand how the project hangs together - which can help you prioritize and justify decisions you’ve made, such as the sequence of tasks and the resources required at different stages. 

5. Resources

Who is supposed to deliver the project?

This includes both people and materials — anything that will help you achieve your goals. It's also helpful to include any outside parties that will be involved in the project.

But more often than not, ‘project resources’ in project roadmap examples will mean people. Your roadmap project plan will show you whether there are enough resources in your current talent pool. 

And if there aren't, you will know exactly what kind of expertise you’re missing.

This helps you work out how to bridge the gap. 

  • Can you make do with a temporary arrangement with a freelancer 
  • Do you need to hire a full-time employee? 
  • Will you need resource-leveling techniques? 
resources on a project roadmap

In the example above - created in Runn - you’ll see that:

  • Celine Dion has been allocated to work on the ‘Life Support’ and ‘Food Supply’ phases - but she’s overcapacity. You can see this from the red hours above her name and the red line above her allocations. The resource manager needs to find a way to reallocate some of this work or face project delays/risk Celine burning out. 
  • There are two placeholders in the roadmap. This quantifies the type of resources and amount of time needed but currently unavailable. This information can help inform recruitment activities.

Unlike a resource schedule - which included detailed task-based resource allocations - at this stage, you’re looking at the big picture. Types of resources and when they’re likely to be needed.

6. Risks 

With project and resource planning, it is easy to get caught up in the process and spread resources too thin. Unless you account for a little gray area like people taking vacations, taking sick leave, or being unexpectedly off work, you will build unrealistic expectations when it comes to your resource capacity. This is also more commonly known as overbooking. 

But there is also another side to that coin — underbooking. If some resource availability falls through the cracks you might give too much workload to one group of people and too little of it to another one. 

This is where some of the most dangerous risks in roadmap project management lie. 

A well-constructed product roadmap keeps everyone on the same page, helps you manage expectations, and enables you to prioritize work appropriately. It can also help you identify opportunities, risks, and dependencies before they become problems.

New to workload distribution and planning? Check out our guides: 

New to workload distribution and planning? Check out our guides: 

Project roadmaps vs schedules

Project roadmaps and project schedules can easily be confused - not least because both can be presented using a Gantt chart. So what exactly is the difference between them?

Project roadmaps are visual representations of a high-level overview of the work required to complete a project. They can highlight milestones, phases, and assignees. They’re the big picture of the project, presented in a concise and highly visual way, so they can be shared with - and understood by - key stakeholders like clients. 

Project schedules go into more detail than a project roadmap. Where a roadmap is the bird’s eye view, a project schedule is a granular detail. The project schedule breaks projects down further - into specific tasks and deadlines. The purpose of a project schedule is day-to-day project delivery, management, and control, rather than communication.

project roadmap vs project schedule

Project roadmaps vs Gantt charts

A Gantt chart is a visual representation of a timeline. It shows task bars against a calendar - and uses visual indicators to show task sequences and dependencies. 

While a Gantt chart is a popular tool for project scheduling, it's not necessarily the best way to communicate with stakeholders about your work. The depth of information a Gantt chart includes can get confusing to the uninitiated. 

A project roadmap is more suitable for communication because it is at a higher level and provides information on a need-to-know basis. 

Put another way, it focuses on big-picture questions like "When do we expect to finish?" rather than "How much time will each task take?"

Project roadmaps vs project charters

A project charter is a written project initiation document. It outlines the key elements of the project like scope, objectives, deliverables, stakeholders, participants, and timeline. 

If this sounds familiar from the description of the project roadmap, you’re not wrong. The project roadmap is a visual representation of the information in a project charter. It can exist as part of the project charter - or some people choose to only create the roadmap. 

If you do have a project charter already, you’ll find it contains all the information you need to create your roadmap visualization.

What kinds of projects need a roadmap?

Because project roadmaps are visual tools that communicate how projects will evolve over time, they aren’t limited to any industry or business size — they can be used for anything from building a website to developing a new product. And since they’re so simple to create, anyone can use them.

That being said, not all projects need a roadmap. But if you’re working on a large, multi-faceted effort or building something new from scratch, it's important to outline what you’re hoping to accomplish in the future.

For example, if you're leading an agency team responsible for launching a new marketing campaign for a client or developing software to solve an internal problem at work, you'll need a way to coordinate all the moving pieces. Otherwise, it's easy for things to slip through the cracks.

Roadmaps can also help you keep track of progress and ensure that everyone is on the same page before jumping into work. They're especially useful in situations where multiple teams are involved in reaching different milestones that must eventually come together.

The most common types of projects that use roadmaps are software development projects, product development projects, and marketing campaigns.

Why do you need a project roadmap?

You might be wondering why you should create a project roadmap in the first place. If it’s only for your team to see, there’s probably no need for a roadmap. But if you need to communicate the status of your project, who’s involved, and what’s expected from all parties, then yes, you need one. This is especially true if you work with cross-functional teams or external stakeholders who need to keep an eye on what you’re doing and when they can expect to see results.

Many different roles can benefit from creating a roadmap for a project. Project managers, for example, use it to keep teams on track and reach their milestones. Key stakeholders might use it to understand the scope of work and check on progress. And customers can use it to get an idea of when upcoming features or products will be finished.

Who are the stakeholders in a project roadmap?

Many different roles can benefit from the creation of a roadmap for a project. 

Looking beyond the obvious audience of your project team, let's look at who else might be consulting it.

  • Leadership team - The people overseeing the project. They use the roadmap to understand the project's strategic alignment, resource allocation, and major milestones.
  • Clients or customers - The people who have commissioned the project. The roadmap helps them understand the project timeline and when they can expect certain deliverables.
  • Project sponsors - Anyone providing financial or strategic support for the project. They use the roadmap to ensure that the project is progressing according to plan and meeting their expectations.
  • Departmental managers - They use the roadmap to understand how their teams contribute to the project and how it aligns with broader organizational objectives.
  • Resourcing/recruitment - Professionals involved in hiring and allocating people to projects. They use the roadmap to ensure the right people are available at the right time. 
  • External bodies - For example, regulatory bodies. They consult the roadmap to ensure compliance with relevant regulations
  • Suppliers - People providing goods or services to the project. They use the roadmap to help align their business activities to the project timeline. 

With so many people potentially interested in your project, you can see why creating a project roadmap makes sense. 

It helps manage people’s expectations and provides a self-service way for them to monitor progress.

How to create a project roadmap

Now that we know why it’s important to have one, let’s get down to business. Here are the main steps to creating a successful road map.

A long time ago you might have headed to a whiteboard and drawn a flow chart or detailed Gantt chart but most project tasks are now completed in task management software, not on the wall.

Step 1. Clarify stakeholders

First things first, you need to understand who your stakeholders are. Use our list of stakeholders above to begin your own stakeholder analysis. 

Conducting a stakeholder analysis now will help you understand who has an interest in your project and what they need to know. This can inform what you include in your project roadmap - and who you need to consult when creating it. 

Step 2. Put relevant data together

The first step in creating a project roadmap is to gather all relevant data that you have about your initiative. This can include information from your project plan, such as budget, dates, key activities, and deliverables; but it should also include any other relevant information about activities or milestones that aren't included in the project plan.

If you're the project's manager, this involves getting input from your team members and other stakeholders, so that you can get as complete of a picture as possible. The more data you can put in there, the better — it will help when you're trying to account for all of your project's various moving parts.

Step 3. Create a draft of the roadmap

With your data collected and organized, it's time to create a draft of your roadmap.

Think about the best way to present your project roadmap. 

Suppose you’re building a project roadmap for a feature release.

You could break the roadmap into milestones, with each milestone marking the end of a meaningful unit of work or phase in the project

Or you could break it in a way that shows which departments are accountable. 

For example:

  • The first milestone is the part where the product team plans the feature
  • The second milestone — the engineering team developing the feature
  • The third milestone — your QA team testing it
  • Next — bug fixes and then release and marketing, etc. 

Make sure to include things like budget, resources, duration, and key project deliverables. You'll also want to include any dependencies or constraints that might impact your project objectives.

When you’re creating your first-ever project roadmap, blank-screen-itis is real. Where do you start? What do you use? Fortunately, there are tools and templates you can use to get you started. Runn users can easily create a project roadmap in our Project Planner.

Step 4. Gather feedback

The last step is to share your draft with a group of stakeholders who can provide feedback and ask questions about what they see. 

You've already had your team look over it and add some suggestions in the past, but now is when you need to start showing others around you how their lives will be impacted by this project. Tell them what you're planning on doing and see if they have any additional information that might be helpful in better understanding the final result. 

Step 5: Share your roadmap

Once you've gathered feedback and made adjustments, you can publish the first official version of the roadmap. Share it with your stakeholders and brief them on the key information it includes.

Step 6: Keep your roadmap up-to-date

Remember, a roadmap isn't just an outline; it's a living document that gets updated throughout the life of a project. If things change substantially, you’ll need to revisit your roadmap and update your stakeholders about the changes.

Final thoughts 

Projects without a well-planned roadmap are like travelers without a map. They could get to their destination, but it'll take longer than necessary and they're more likely to go in circles or miss a crucial turn along the way. A roadmap is the foundation for every project, because it defines how you will reach your goal — your ultimate purpose.

Without roadmaps, projects can become chaotic and confusing for both the project owner and other participants. Project roadmaps typically have a beginning and an end, checkpoints along the way, milestones that need to be completed before certain steps can take place, and a time frame.

And that's why every project needs one.

To start creating your project roadmaps with Runn and make it a matter of a few clicks — book a demo with us now!

Enjoy the post? Sign up for the latest strategies, stories and product updates.

You might also like

Try Runn today for free!

Join over 10k users worldwide.
Start scheduling in less than 10 minutes.
No credit card needed