How to create a project roadmap: A toolkit for success

A project roadmap is the best way to communicate project strategies, milestones and deliverables to key stakeholders within your business.

Communicating your project aim and strategy isn’t always easy. Often, key stakeholders and executives want to see how a project will unfold but don’t have time to trawl through an overly detailed plan.

That’s why a project roadmap is so useful. It offers a concise way of charting project milestones and objectives so that decision-makers know which deliverables to expect and when. It’s also a way of establishing effective workstreams, helping you delegate and manage tasks from the start.

Here, we cover the basics of creating a project roadmap, from setting a realistic timeline to establishing balanced workstreams with definable objectives.

We’ve added quick links to help you navigate the guide and find the information you need:

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What is a project roadmap?

A project roadmap gives a high-level overview of a project’s goals, objectives and deliverables. It’s presented as a timeline, showing when and how key project milestones will be met.

A project roadmap should be simple and concise. Avoid including too much detail, as this goes into the main project plan. Your roadmap should give a steer on the project timeline, making it easier to manage stakeholder expectations and communicate next steps and milestones to the team.

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Think of a project roadmap as an at-a-glance resource that complements the main project plan. It provides a strategic overview of a project, so everyone can review the status of the project as it moves towards completion.

Here, we look at what a project roadmap should contain:

  • Goals and objectives
  • A timeline outlining key milestones
  • Deliverables
  • Risks
  • Contingencies

Project roadmaps and agile: what’s the link?

Agile project management is becoming the norm in process-driven disciplines, as businesses look to move away from rigid ways of working in favour of short development cycles that focus on continuous improvement and optimisation. But how do project roadmaps fit into this new management practice? And are they still of value?

The agile project management model relies on a large amount of collaboration between individual stakeholders and teams, all of whom come together to make the project happen. Because of the multi-faceted nature of this working dynamic, it’s vital that everyone can easily track and review the status of the project – and that’s where a project roadmap comes in.

A project roadmap complements agile management perfectly. Light on detail yet concise and manageable, roadmaps make agile project management easy, with teams given a clear view of the project’s goals and objectives without becoming bogged down in small details – which is the key to achieving an agile management strategy.

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How to make a project roadmap: step-by-step

An effective project roadmap should communicate high-level project objectives and activity at a glance. Here’s how to create a project roadmap that outlines your strategy clearly.

Step 1: Define project goals and plans

A good project roadmap communicates goals and plans succinctly, providing high-level detail without relying on excessive planning notes and briefs. Your map should chart the objectives of the project simply, highlighting what stakeholders can expect and how your team will achieve it.

Start by creating a list of deliverables. This is a pre-defined rundown of what will be achieved, demonstrating the value and feasibility of the project to senior executives. Don’t offer reams of detail here; simply state your expectations before supplementing the goals with a workable project timeline.

Step 2: Create a realistic timeline (example included)

A timeline is the most important part of a project roadmap. This sets out not only the duration of the project, but how it will evolve, when milestones will be met, and how individual workstreams will come together to achieve objectives in line with your project timings.

Begin by determining the necessary workstreams and resources needed to complete objectives, as these will dictate the length of the project and when to set key milestones. The timeline should identify the time it will take to complete your objectives and at what cost. How far into the future you look when communicating these timings and costs is up to you, and will depend on the scope of the project and the level of work involved.

Below, we’ve put together an example of a project roadmap, so you can get a clear idea of how your timeline should look.

Step 3: Assess the value and risks of each project task

Some tasks carry greater weight and responsibility than others, so you need to make sure these are delegated to the right people. Grade each task by how critical it is to the success of the project and assign accordingly to the appropriate team member or department.

Step 4: Consider costs and resources

Each workstream should be carefully assessed to gauge the cost and resources needed. Stakeholders will want to see how much time, money and resource are being invested into specific tasks, so include this information in the workstream.

Step 5: Delegate effectively

Once you have an idea of costings and resource, you can begin to delegate project activity to individual departments and team members. Delegation requires a careful balance between cost and feasibility; there’s little point giving a person chief ownership of a workstream as a cost-cutting measure if there are doubts on whether they can achieve their objective. Be realistic and consider the long-term viability of the project rather than short-term cost cuttings.

Tip – A project roadmap is an at-a-glance solution, so don’t feel that you have to include every detail of how objectives will be achieved. Workstreams are a way of communicating ownership of high-level project tasks, but there should be no need to go more granular than this.

The activity of individual team members may form a large part of a wider workstream, so there’s no need to include this on the roadmap. This will keep things more flexible, allowing you to shift responsibility and create a contingency plan without justifying every change to stakeholders.

Step 6: Set achievable milestones

Individual workstreams should help to highlight the development of a project, and milestones are a simple way of communicating step-by-step progress to stakeholders. When establishing workstreams, milestones make it easy to see how individual activity will help towards meeting targets and objectives, ensuring each facet of the project is progressing as forecast in your roadmap.

Contingency and risk management

As you build out the timeline and begin to add defined workstreams, you need to consider high-risk areas and implement contingency measures which will steer the project back towards success should something go amiss.

Risk management is crucial to project road-mapping and key stakeholders will want to see that every eventuality has been accounted for. Caveat specific high-risk activity with an appropriate label, such as ‘limited resource’, ‘potential for external delays’ or ‘finance issue’, so that stakeholders are aware of areas of risk from the outset. This not only manages expectation but may help you resolve issues; for instance, if you approve additional funding or resources to support the smooth completion of individual workstreams and project goals.

To supplement your project roadmap, create a contingency document covering what action will be taken should any of the workstreams fail to fulfil their objective. This should effectively outline a ‘plan B’ for the project delivery, taking into account risk management analysis and contingency measures.

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Key takeaways

Here are some of the key takeaways and things to remember when creating your own project roadmap:

  • A project roadmap should make sense to anyone who reads it, giving a concise breakdown of your goals, strategy and activity at a glance. Try to avoid including too much detail; this can be included in a longer strategy or planning document.
  • A project roadmap should contain two key parts: a clear list of defined aims and deliverables and an accompanying timeline detailing the workstreams that will help you achieve your objectives.
  • Be realistic when drawing up a project timeline and think carefully about who to delegate specific tasks to.
  • Don’t overload workstreams with granular activity and processes; include only high-level information to keep the project’s workstreams flexible.
  • Ask a colleague to sense-check your roadmap before distributing it to stakeholders. If they can’t understand something or have uncertainties about its achievability, you may need to make some changes.

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