What is a business roadmap?

A business roadmap outlines the direction you will take to achieve your business plan and successfully meet long-term strategic goals. It is useful for communicating your vision and plans at every growth stage, from early-stage startup to established enterprise company.

Business roadmaps can help organizations of all sizes scale and innovate. Regardless of industry or market, these are essential tools that help everyone in the organization understand key objectives, communicate status, and take action. This guide offers definitions and best practices to help you learn about what goes into creating a business roadmap. The details of your own roadmap will differ based on the unique facets of your company, but there are universal elements that can be applied to any business.

What is the purpose of a business roadmap?

The purpose of a business roadmap is to visualize exactly what is needed to transform a company’s vision into reality. It is flexible and can be as detailed or abstract as you need it to be, depending on the phase of business maturity. Your business roadmap is action-focused. Because a roadmap is a timeline, you can lay out what will happen in a given month, quarter, or year.

You may be confused about the differences between business roadmaps and business plans. If you already have a defined business plan, why do you need another planning tool? Some people even refer to your business plan as a type of roadmap.

While there are some areas of overlap between a business plan and a business roadmap, there are critical distinctions. Understanding what makes the two different will help you benefit from each.

Business plan vs. business roadmap: What is the difference?

A business plan is a detailed document that is generally created at the outset of any company. This foundational document is essential to running a business and is especially useful for new companies. More established businesses benefit from updating their business plan or creating a new one when expanding into new markets or developing offerings that fundamentally change how the business operates.

Format

A business plan is a document that describes how the business operates. It is a best practice to keep it as concise as possible. However, due to the sheer number of elements the document contains, it is common for a business plan to be upwards of 10 pages. You may also keep it lightweight and create a short slide deck instead. It all depends on the complexity of the business and its offerings.

Components

A business plan typically contains the following:

  • Executive summary: A short paragraph that includes the vision and mission statement, as well as details about the company — such as location and number of employees.

  • Products and services: Outline of what the company sells, including manufacturing, proprietary technology, and pricing. The mechanism for profit should also be documented (transactional, freemium, subscription, etc.).

  • Market: Overview of the industry and market landscape — typically includes a SWOT analysis, competitor profiles, and consumer demand for the company’s products or services.

  • Marketing strategy: High-level description of how the company will reach and attract prospective customers through various marketing activities and distribution channels.

  • Acquisition strategy: Description of the unique way you will acquire, engage, and retain customers.

  • Financials: A new business will include projections for target revenue, while an established business may include bank statements, balance sheets, or other financial details.

  • Budget: Costs related to staff, research and product development, marketing, and other business expenses.

Audience

A business plan is referenced most by internal executives and senior leaders. There may be times when you need to share your business plan with other stakeholders, including:

  • Banks

  • Investors

  • Suppliers

  • Partners

A business roadmap is a visualization of specific aspects of your business plan in a given time frame. It contains active and upcoming work at a high-level and is a helpful way to gauge how well the company is tracking towards achieving its business plan.

Format

A business roadmap is a visual timeline that displays strategic goals and initiatives in swimlanes. Anything that is shown on your business roadmap represents efforts that the organization has prioritized and agreed to complete.

Components

A business roadmap typically contains the following:

  • Goals: Targets to achieve, such as revenue or growth.

  • Initiatives: Major themes of work or areas of investment that support organizational goals.

  • Milestones: Significant points of progress.

  • Dependencies: Anything that must be completed before something else can start or that might affect progress — such as interrelated work items or external stakeholders.

Audience

A business roadmap is typically an internal planning tool created by senior leaders and shared with functional teams to inform their own planning efforts. However, you may create versions of a business roadmap that you share with:

  • Investors

  • Partners

  • Customers

What should be in a business roadmap?

Your business roadmap should include the most important strategic plans across the company. You should include goals, initiatives, and major themes of work from cross-functional teams. Since you will likely need to adjust your roadmap over time, be sure everything you add to it deserves to be there. The more you add to your roadmap, the more difficult it can be to change course when new opportunities arise.

You may find that you create a few roadmaps concurrently. For example, you might create a long-term roadmap that covers all aspects of business planning over the next three to five or even 10 years. This could include high-level forecasts for revenue, marketing and sales, staffing, and operations — as well as new products or services you plan to develop.

Then you could have a shorter-term business roadmap, either a year or six months at a time. This roadmap might include corporate-level goals and initiatives, as well as those of specific functions. You want to show how the entire company will work against overall business objectives.

To truly benefit from this adaptive style of planning, it is helpful to have all teams working within a shared strategic planning tool. The screenshot below shows a business roadmap that was created in Aha! Roadmaps. Since the planning data is live, the roadmap will automatically show progress as it happens.

This is a custom roadmap created in Aha! Roadmaps.

How to create a business roadmap?

Creating a business roadmap should be part of your strategic planning process. Most successful companies follow a goal-first approach to roadmapping.

  1. Set goals — Establish what you want to achieve, from revenue to hiring.

  2. Gather information — Seek input from organizational leaders and research your market.

  3. Organize into themes — Identify patterns in your inputs.

  4. Prioritize initiatives — Use those themes to define initiatives, making sure each supports a specific goal.

  5. Add time frames — Forecast resourcing and evaluate when each initiative would need to be completed.

  6. Review and revise — Evaluate your progress against the roadmap often so you can spot challenges and adjust as needed.

Who can use a business roadmap?

Everyone with a vested interest in your company’s success will benefit from having access to some version of your business roadmap. Since a business roadmap visualizes the company’s goals and objectives, think of it as a blueprint that all stakeholders can rally around and follow. Here are some of the types of people and teams who can use a business roadmap:

  • Angel investors

  • Business owners

  • Consultants

  • Entrepreneurs

  • Executives

  • Marketing teams

  • Product managers

  • Sales teams

  • Startup founders

  • Venture capitalists

What are some types of business roadmaps?

Each functional group should have their own roadmap — from product management to marketing and IT. There may be times when you need different types of business roadmaps or different views for different audiences. Unlike a startup roadmap, these are geared towards more established companies. Here are a couple examples:

Business development roadmap
A business development roadmap outlines strategic expansion efforts. This would include things like new partnerships, sales channels, or market shifts.

Business intelligence roadmap
A business intelligence roadmap focuses on tracking and planning all business operations. This would include strategic efforts to affect performance, such as change management, process improvement, or adopting new technologies.

What is a business roadmap template?

Templates help you repeat success. Define your strategic planning process and create a format for your business roadmap that works for your company. Then templatize it. Standardizing your business roadmap template will help reduce inefficiencies. When people do not have to guess at how to do their planning, they can spend more time on strategic thinking.

If you are using purpose-built roadmapping software, it is very easy to quickly create and share these templates. But if you are stuck using static tools like Excel or PowerPoint, we created a selection of free business plan templates you can download and modify.

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