Roadmaps make strategy work
February 24, 2020

Roadmaps make strategy work

by Brian de Haaff

Putting strategy into action can be difficult. That is because too many teams jump straight to the “how” before they agree on the “why” and the “what.” Typically this leap happens because there is a lack of clarity and transparency across the organization, especially as it relates to strategy. And inevitably, poor planning tools are in the mix. But the move-first mentality is unfortunately all too common.

Many organizations repeat the same mistake – talking about methodology before they define clear goals and work. 

I have experienced this firsthand. In the past, I have seen teams stagnate when they cannot agree on a consistent way to describe their plans and instead spend time talking about how they will collaborate. There is nothing to collaborate on if outcomes are not well defined.

Very little gets done, but plenty of process-y buzzwords and acronyms are lobbed around. Activity occurs, but it is not always clear how each project or task is building towards the desired outcome. That is because there is no definition of what success even looks like.

When you build a real roadmap and connect it to a higher-level vision, you bring strategy to the front. A roadmap is simply a visual way for people to actually understand the vision and deliver against the goals. It lays out a course for the team to follow. Strategy is simultaneously contained and empowered by the reality of a timeline.

Roadmapping is an essential part of any strategic planning process — because roadmaps make strategy work.

Do you need a roadmap for your to-do list? No. And you likely do not need a roadmap for routine work that follows a consistent cycle. But a roadmap can help when you are investing serious time and resources to build or improve something meaningful. Here are a few ways to know that you need a roadmap:

You have goals

If the product or service that you manage has an actual impact on the company (good or bad), then you likely have goals associated with what you want to do. This is important. Because you will need to make tough decisions about what to pursue. A roadmap can be a forcing factor. If you link planned work to actual success metrics (that map to your strategy), then you can more easily identify what will propel you forward and what will not.

You have lots of ideas

Feedback, requests, submissions — whatever you call it, there are many people clamoring to tell you what they think is the next right move. There is so much of this stuff that it can be challenging to keep track of what comes in and understand what should be prioritized. Reviewing and vetting input from customers, internal teams, and external partners feels like a game of whack-a-mole without a roadmap to guide those conversations.

You have a deadline

Dates still matter. (Yes, agile teams have deadlines too.) Worthwhile and consequential work has a specific window for completion. But a delivery date is just a milestone — inevitably you also need a workback timeline to ensure that everything you want to do can be done in the allotted time. A roadmap is a literal visualization of timing and action.

You have cross-functional teams

That plan you are working on? It is not just for you. Other teams need to see it. And not only do they need to see it, but their work directly affects the feasibility of what you want to accomplish. In fact, there are many dependencies for you to track and coordinate in order to successfully meet your deadline and goals.

It takes boldness to craft a vision of the future — setting strategy is merely the edge of a precipice. 

Every dynamic team depends on a roadmap to deliver something meaningful. Visual, flexible, and methodology-agnostic — roadmapping is for everyone. A roadmap might not solve all the root causes that I mentioned earlier. And the big plan may not go exactly as you imagined it.

But when you can show how work supports goals, communicate with different audiences, prioritize the best ideas, and give folks a workable plan to rally around, then you can leap with confidence.

How does your team turn strategy into action?

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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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