Why does IT need a roadmap?
Let's look back into the past for a moment. Most IT teams were focused on systems and projects rather than customer experiences. You spent the majority of your time on tactical work, fixing bugs, or responding to ad hoc requests. You probably managed one or two big releases per year and did not have as many opportunities to meaningfully collaborate with your cross-functional colleagues.
But the world of IT is changing. New technologies and increasingly complex transformations are forcing many IT teams to adopt a product mindset. This requires thinking strategically about IT investments, planning for the future technical needs of the business, and continually identifying ways to better serve internal customers.
An IT roadmap helps you do this. It is a visualization of your plan — outlining your strategy, the work you will do to achieve your goals, and the timeline for when you will deliver. The process of creating an IT roadmap forces clarity. You have to determine which initiatives will most support the business and ensure that the technology you use serves the company vision. It is what IT looks like today.
What are the benefits of an IT roadmap?
IT organizations create a variety of different roadmaps to define current capabilities and plan for future improvements. Two common types of IT roadmaps are an IT systems roadmap and a technology roadmap. An IT systems roadmap lays out the major systems your business relies on to operate, such as enterprise databases and data analytics platforms, and any improvements that are needed to reach the IT goals. A technology roadmap captures the current technology that is available as well as a plan for how to implement new tools or improve existing ones.
Depending on the type of functional IT team you are a part of, your roadmaps may be more project-oriented, program-oriented, or a hybrid of systems and technology. No matter what type of roadmap you create, you should keep it separate from other documents such as backlogs of feature requests or bug fixes. This keeps you focused on the overall value you are bringing to the organization.
Here are some additional benefits of building an IT roadmap:
Orient the team around the IT strategy and the work you will do to achieve it. Use your roadmap to show how the technology goals support the company strategy. Demonstrate how the large areas of investment and specific features you are delivering contribute to business goals. A shared understanding of what you are building and why it matters gives everyone the motivation to achieve great things.
Pivot easily as dates and requirements change. A roadmap includes a timeline for when you will deliver new and improved functionality, but it also provides the freedom to adapt when dates change. This is true even if you are part of an agile team — everyone benefits from having a visual timeline and the ability to adjust plans when necessary.
Identify new ways to better serve users. IT is constantly evolving — you need to plan system improvements, roll out new tools, and provide the platforms needed for transformation initiatives. Gathering real-time feedback and managing requests for new functionality is vital to coming up with ways to improve the user experience. You can add the best ideas to the IT roadmap and plan for the technical capabilities that the company will need in the future.
Vet projects against your strategy so you can focus on the work that is most urgent and impactful. Use your roadmap to identify opportunities and create a plan for implementation. This will help you make tradeoff decisions, deliver on schedule, and limit technical debt.
Share your IT plans and progress with the rest of the organization. Providing transparency into what you are working on and why it matters builds trust and goodwill with executives and internal teams. Frequent demos and roadmap presentations are good ways to give status updates and gather feedback from your cross-functional colleagues. When everyone can see how your work serves the broader company goals, they are more likely to adopt new updates and tools when you roll them out.
Who contributes to an IT roadmap?
IT leaders such as the CIO or CTO typically set strategy but the entire IT team contributes to the roadmap. Depending on the structure of the organization, engineers may contribute to the product roadmap, the IT roadmap for internal projects, or both. Executives and cross-functional teams should also provide input on the IT roadmap. Including all relevant teams in the process makes it easier to build a comprehensive roadmap with accurate dates and dependencies.
Each functional area within IT can benefit from building its own roadmap and sharing it with the rest of the team. You can also create a portfolio roadmap to show projects across different IT groups such as:
Engineering and quality assurance (QA)
You are responsible for building and maintaining the technical capabilities your organization needs. This is how IT teams deliver value to internal and external customers alike. If you are looking for purpose-built roadmapping software, consider trying Aha! Roadmaps free for 30 days. IT teams need these types of robust tools to create beautiful roadmaps, manage resources, and formalize workflows — so you can think strategically and keep delivering exceptional user experiences.
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