Introduction to IT roadmaps

The best IT teams operate proactively. You know how to balance the day-to-day with the plans that keep you moving forward. The entire organization relies on you to deliver the infrastructure, resources, and tools they need to do their jobs. They also approach you with technical issues and ideas for new services and technology. It is probably true that you receive more requests than you have resources or time to deliver.

Many teams are shifting from a project to a product or value mindset. This means moving from an inward focus to a customer-driven approach — with more emphasis on long-term outcomes and delivering the most value to the business. To do it well, you need an IT roadmap — so you can focus on delivering the essential work that is best aligned with your IT strategy.

An IT roadmap is a visualization of your strategic plans. It lays out your long-term goals, the core initiatives you will invest in, and the timing of the work you will deliver. Think of the IT roadmap as the "why" of the work. You will later develop the "what" (the actual features, capabilities, or tasks) and the "when" (the release plan).

Why is an IT roadmap important?

Roadmaps are about the future. Everything IT does to support the business requires anticipating what the company will need to compete and innovate. Your roadmap keeps you on schedule for what you have committed to. It provides a framework that allows you to vet and prioritize requests for enhancements and new services that you receive from other departments.

The roadmapping process requires you to zero in on the initiatives that will bring the most value to the organization. You have to make tradeoff decisions about the work that is most strategically aligned and connect all the details back to top-level company goals.

A roadmap also serves as a communication tool — giving you an opportunity to share what is coming next with internal teams and showcase delivery dates. You can also use the roadmap to facilitate cross-functional coordination and build out the details of your release plans.

If you work in an agile environment, you may wonder if a roadmap will slow you down. In fact, a strategic roadmap can drive even more efficiency. This is because you are forced to make purposeful decisions about which projects are worth your time and resources. The roadmap does not lock you into a fixed plan. Rather, you have a clear direction to move towards that can be adjusted and built upon.

Different types of IT roadmaps

Roadmaps are useful no matter how you work. You can adjust them to your IT workflows, methodologies, and teams. For instance, you might have a portfolio roadmap for the entire department that highlights work across each function. Smaller teams — architecture, operations, engineering, and so forth — can benefit from creating their own roadmaps as well.

Here are a few common types of IT roadmaps:

Architecture roadmap

An architecture roadmap displays the strategic direction of business architecture. You could create an architecture roadmap to lay out a timeline for progressing from baseline to target architecture or for migrating to the cloud.

Business applications roadmap (or technology roadmap)

A business applications or technology roadmap shows the technology available to employees today and considers the tools that are scheduled for end-of-life. You could organize the roadmap by tools, functional groups, or capabilities. In many cases, several teams will need the same technology or solution.

Development roadmap

A development roadmap typically highlights the work that engineers are doing to enhance customer-facing applications. It may overlap with the product roadmap or can stand alone as a planning tool for the development team.

Infrastructure roadmap

An infrastructure roadmap visualizes the networks and systems that enable core capabilities within the company — such as servers, firewalls, and storage. Your roadmap could show the lifecycle of infrastructure components, including times when you need to renew contracts or retire equipment.

Operations roadmap

An operations roadmap includes strategic priorities and investments that can be business-related as well as IT-related. This may include things like service desk enhancements and process improvements.

Security roadmap

A security roadmap lays out data and security priorities, such as updating data policies, refining a vulnerability management program, or preparing for a compliance review.

It is important to note that there will be overlaps across these roadmaps. The work planned by one team impacts another. This is why it is valuable to create a roadmap for your entire IT portfolio so you can align plans and map a shared strategic direction for the entire department.

How to build an IT roadmap

The key to building any roadmap is to start with the "why" before you determine the "what" and "when." Make sure you understand and can clearly articulate the vision and strategy behind your plans. Once you have set IT goals that map back to high-level business goals, you can determine the initiatives and broad areas of work that will help you achieve those goals.

You will also want to review any ideas or requests that you have received from stakeholders and internal teams. Prioritize those that correspond with your strategy.

You can break initiatives down into smaller units of work. These become the epics, features, and user stories that will help you deliver on the initiatives. Eventually, you will organize this work into releases and deliver it incrementally.

The exact timeline and details that you include on your roadmap will depend on who you will be presenting it to. For instance, executives want crucial information about the business context and outcomes, while engineers require more technical details. Ideally, you will build a roadmap that can be easily customized for the intended audience.

This is one reason why IT managers use a purpose-built roadmapping tool like Aha! Roadmaps. You can enter goals, initiatives, and other details once, then quickly create as many roadmap views as you need. As the work gets underway, your roadmap is updated in real time. This lets you focus on the work that matters — rather than spending time adjusting the plan.

Best practices are best supported with the right tools. IT roadmapping software can help you manage projects, releases, and changes. Get started with Aha! Roadmaps — free for 30 days.

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