What is a business roadmap? Best practices to achieve your business plan
A business (or company) roadmap is a tool that outlines the direction you will take to achieve your business plan and meet your long-term strategic goals. Company and product leaders use business roadmaps to communicate an organization's vision and plans at every growth stage — from early-stage startup to established enterprise company.
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This is a custom roadmap created in Aha! Roadmaps — showing business goals and initiatives, success metrics, and progress towards completion.
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.
Explore sections in this guide:
What is the purpose of a business roadmap?
A business roadmap helps you visualize exactly what is needed to transform a company’s vision into reality and when. You can lay out what will happen in a given month, quarter, or year — or whatever timeline you prefer to visualize when you will achieve your goals. A business roadmap is flexible by nature. It can be as detailed or abstract as you need it to be, depending on the phase of business maturity and the size of your team.
You may be wondering about the differences between business roadmaps and business plans. If you already have a defined business plan, why do you need another planning tool? To make things more confusing, 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. Let's take a closer look at each tool and what makes them different.
Business plan vs. business roadmap: What is the difference?
A business plan is a foundational and detailed document that is generally created at the outset of any company. It 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.
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.
A business plan typically contains the following:
It is mainly executives and senior leaders who use a business plan and discuss it with internal teams. But there may also be times when you need to share your business plan with other stakeholders, including:
Now let's focus on a business roadmap. 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.
A business roadmap is a visual timeline that displays strategic goals and initiatives. Anything that is shown on your business roadmap represents efforts that the organization has prioritized and agreed to complete.
A business roadmap typically contains the following information, organized in vertical or horizontal swimlanes:
A business roadmap is typically an internal planning tool created by senior leaders and shared with functional teams such as product to inform their own planning efforts. However, you may create versions of a business roadmap that you share with:
What to include on a business roadmap
Broadly speaking, your business roadmap should include the most important strategic plans across the company. This includes 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 like Aha! Roadmaps. Since the planning data is updated in real time, every roadmap that the team sees will automatically show progress as it happens. This aligns the organization around what you will achieve and provides clarity into how you will work together to do it.
How to build 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.
Set goals — Establish what you want to achieve, from revenue to hiring.
Gather information — Seek input from organizational leaders and research your market.
Organize into themes — Identify patterns in your inputs.
Prioritize initiatives — Use those themes to define initiatives, making sure each supports a specific goal.
Add time frames — Forecast resourcing and evaluate when each initiative would need to be completed.
Review and revise — Evaluate your progress against the roadmap often so you can spot challenges and adjust as needed.
These are the key steps for creating a compelling business roadmap.
Who uses a business roadmap?
Anyone 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:
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.
Get started with a business roadmap template
Templates help you repeat success, standardize work, and save time. 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.
Related: Business model templates
Take a look at this roadmap template that comes in Aha! Notebooks — a digital notebook and whiteboard tool for product teams. You can easily customize this template for use as a business roadmap by adding the relevant goals, initiatives, milestones, and dependencies. This is a simple, lightweight way to get started with business roadmapping. For more robust functionality, Aha! Roadmaps can help you connect your visual plans to actual work.
Set brilliant strategy, prioritize features, and share visual plans with Aha! Roadmaps — a purpose-built product development tool. Get started with a free 30-day trial.
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