5 Signs You Need an IT Roadmap
April 27, 2020

5 Signs You Need an IT Roadmap

by Brian de Haaff

Be more agile. Create better user experiences. Plan for today’s technical needs and the future unknown. Most IT teams are struggling with this juxtaposition. Addressing day-to-day tactical requests that need to be prioritized alongside adopting new technologies and improving infrastructure. Phew — that is a lot. It is not so easy to focus on the present while guaranteeing future success.

But the success of the business does rely on strong technical systems and efficient processes — both today and tomorrow.

Many company leaders are putting roadmapping at the center of their strategic planning process. From product management to marketing to IT, more and more groups are coming to Aha! for help with setting strategy, prioritizing investments, and managing complex rollouts. I believe this is happening because these groups have increasingly complex projects and infrastructure — and they need a strong strategy and roadmap to manage it all.

Unlike external-facing product and marketing teams, most IT groups are inwardly focused. IT initiatives are related to systems and employees rather than external customers. But those internal tools ultimately have a major impact on customer experience and business growth. So, just like their more external counterparts in product and marketing, IT folks benefit when they think about how their work contributes to the overall company goals.

IT teams need to capture feedback and prioritize work — just like their colleagues in product management.

Roadmapping is agnostic of discipline or methodology. The exercise of building a roadmap forces you to consider what is most important — your big vision constrained by time and resources. The roadmap itself is simply a visualization of your strategic plan. It shows how upcoming work will support business goals and aligns everyone around a single timeline view.

If you work in IT, thinking about how your own team currently operates (and identifying areas of improvement) can make it easier to recognize what is missing. Here are some of the signs that your team really needs an IT roadmap:

Strategy is out of sight How do technology goals align with the company vision? And how do the big areas of investment and individual features that you are working on support those objectives? If you struggle for an answer, then your team is likely not putting strategy first. There is no yardstick for measuring what is needed and why, so it is difficult to determine which work items to pursue.

The focus is on technology Customer personas are for marketing teams. At least that is the way IT operated in the past. The focus was on components, capabilities, and technical requirements rather than people. When you are so busy tackling day-to-day requests, you do not have time to analyze every pain point or ask other teams to share their insights. This makes your user stories not as grounded in the problems users are trying to solve.

Deadlines? What deadlines? Due dates function more like constantly changing goalposts than defined targets. You are not directly interacting with customers, so who cares if you miss a deadline. Right? But as dates to deliver new functionality get ignored, features get pushed out later and later. And because there is no real plan in place, the team has difficulty making tradeoff decisions and making time to address technical debt.

Everyone is surprised There is limited visibility into what your department is working on and how it serves the broader company. Even the business groups that IT supports have trouble tracking what is coming next. When you release new updates and tools, it seems like people are confused about what you released and why. Without broad cross-functional support for your work, you are not able to make a lasting impact on the organization.

Feedback fades away There is no formal way to collect internal ideas and requests. Feedback comes in from too many places and ends up getting lost. So it is difficult to identify themes that would make a meaningful impact for users. The same complaints start piling up and people seem to lose trust. Your frustration only grows as your users hesitate to adopt the new features your team introduces.

A roadmap illuminates what you are working on and why it is important — a beacon that can guide you and the team. 

If you found yourself nodding along to all of those trouble signs above, you can start small. Work with your colleagues and support each other — bring that goal-first mindset to everything you do. Before you start anything new, clarify the objectives and timelines. Bring curiosity to team meetings. Ask why one task is being prioritized above another. This is how you develop a culture of strategic thinking.

There is real joy that comes from knowing the work you are doing today has a positive impact. And there is deep meaning that comes from thinking through all the different angles about what you will do next. The juxtaposition of now and future will always be there. But roadmapping gives you the ability to plan for both at the same time.

How do you visualize your technology plans?

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Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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