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.
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.
A roadmap is exactly what it sounds like: It's your direction, and it gives you the confidence that you're on the right path. A project roadmap is an essential tool for project management — it helps keep track of where your project is going and how to get there. It provides a detailed look at what needs to happen when and who's responsible for doing it.
In other words, a project roadmap is a high-level visual summary that maps out the vision and direction of your project. It's also known as a project management roadmap, product roadmap, or just roadmap. Project roadmaps communicate the who, what, and when of your projects to important stakeholders.
At its core, it also helps you and your team stay focused on the big picture by visualizing what needs to get done and when. The best project roadmaps are visual, easy to understand and share, and include the most relevant information for your team and stakeholders. Here's an example of a project roadmap created using Runn.
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:
To provide clear-cut answers to the questions above, make sure that your project roadmap tools can cover the following key components:
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.
Project phases are a powerful tool to segment and plan out your project’s workflow. Typically, each phase leads to a project milestone.
If you have more than one phase in your project, include them in the order they will be completed. 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.
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."
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 and how many hours you will need from that expert — can you make do with a temporary arrangement with a freelancer or do you need to hire a full-time employee?
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:
Project roadmaps and Gantt charts are two common project management tools. While they both provide direction and guidance, they are used in different ways by project managers.
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.
A Gantt chart, in turn, provides a detailed schedule for the tasks that need to be done for a project. A Gantt chart provides details about how long each task will take, which team member is responsible for completing it and when it needs to be completed by.
In fact, a Gantt chart is a popular tool for project scheduling and tracking projects, but it's usually not the best way to communicate with stakeholders about your work. The project roadmap is more suitable for this purpose because it's higher level and focuses on questions like "When do we expect to finish?" rather than "How much time will each task take?"
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.
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.
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:
The project is planned, the stakeholders are briefed and everyone is on board. It’s a go! You’ve got your team and they have their marching orders. 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.
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.
With your data collected and organized, it's time to create a draft of your roadmap. A roadmap isn't just an outline; it's a living document that gets updated throughout the life of a project. It should illustrate how everything ties together in order to give people an idea of what exactly they can expect from the finished product, who the different stakeholders are, what needs to be done, and who will be doing it.
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.
The last step is to share your draft with a group of stakeholders who can provide feedback and ask questions on 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.
Once you've gathered feedback and made adjustments, you can publish the final version of the road map.
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!
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