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What is a business roadmap? Best practices to achieve your business plan

Last updated: March 2024

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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An example of a custom roadmap made in Aha! software that shows business goals and initiatives

This custom roadmap created in Aha! Roadmaps shows business goals and initiatives, success metrics, and progress.

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 apply to any business.

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What is the purpose of a business roadmap?

A business roadmap helps you visualize exactly what needs to happen — and when — to transform a company’s vision into reality. You can lay out what will happen in a given month, quarter, or year (or whatever timeline you prefer for visualizing 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 business's maturity and the size of your team.

You might 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.

Although there are some areas of overlap between a business plan and a business roadmap, there are also critical distinctions. Let's take a closer look at each tool and what makes them different.

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

A business plan is a detailed foundational document that is generally created at any company's outset. It is essential to running a business and is especially useful for new companies. More established businesses benefit from updating their business plans or creating new ones when expanding into new markets or developing offerings that fundamentally change how their businesses operate.

Here is what you should know about a business plan:

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 10 pages or more. You can 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: An 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: An overview of the industry and market landscape — this typically includes a SWOT analysis, competitor profiles, and consumer demand for the company’s products or services.

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

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

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

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

Audience

It is mainly executives and senior leaders who use a business plan and discuss it with internal teams. But there might also be times when you need to share your business plan with other stakeholders, including:

  • Banks

  • Investors

  • Partners

  • Suppliers

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 toward achieving its business plan.

Format

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.

Components

A business roadmap typically contains the following information organized in vertical or horizontal swimlanes:

  • 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 (such as product) to inform their own planning efforts. However, you can create versions of a business roadmap that you share with:

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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. Because 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 might find that you create a few roadmaps concurrently. For example, you could create a long-term roadmap that covers all aspects of business planning over the next three to five (or even 10) years. This might 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 toward 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. Because 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.

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How to build a business roadmap

This is a circular graphic outlining the steps involved in creating a business roadmap.

As you build your business roadmap, remember to keep your goals in mind. They should inform all of your plans.

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 one 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.

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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. Because a business roadmap visualizes the company’s goals and objectives, you can 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

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Types of business roadmaps

Each functional group should have their own roadmap — from product management to marketing and IT. There might be times when you need different types of business roadmaps or different views for different audiences. Unlike a startup roadmap, these are geared toward 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.

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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.

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Take a look at this roadmap template built on a whiteboard in Aha! software. You can easily customize the roadmap by adding your own goals, initiatives, milestones, and dependencies. This is a simple, lightweight way to get started with business roadmapping. For more robust roadmapping functionality, Aha! Roadmaps connects your visual plans to actual work. It also includes the whiteboard template below and many other dynamic roadmap views.

Product roadmap	 large

FAQs about business roadmaps

What is the difference between a business roadmap and a business strategy?

A business roadmap is a visualization of your business strategy — a step-by-step, more tactical guide for how you will achieve a business plan. It ensures you can meet any long-term goals you set previously. And in particular, it involves your business's goals, initiatives, milestones, and dependencies.

A business strategy outlines how you approach your work in general. At Aha! we like to break it down into three components:

  • Foundation: This is where you define your strategic vision and tie it back to business models and positioning templates.

  • Market: The market includes your customer profiles as well as your competitors.

  • Imperatives: Imperatives bridge your overall strategy to the work you are going to deliver (i.e., your releases and features). In other words, imperatives link goals to the work items needed to reach them.

What is the difference between a business roadmap and a business vision?

Your business vision is all about defining what lies ahead. It covers why your company exists, where it is headed, and why you believe in that future. Because it impacts your culture, values, and strategic direction, it is important to map out this concept early on and adjust it whenever your future changes. On the other hand, a business roadmap conveys the near-term work you will do to achieve that long-term vision.

How often should you update your business roadmap?

Your business roadmap should be flexible enough that you can update it regularly and painlessly. As a general rule, you should adjust your roadmaps whenever your plans — and those plan details — happen to change. This keeps stakeholders aligned with what is happening throughout the organization in order to reach pre-defined goals.

If you already use Aha! software, we have some good news to share: Because changes you make to records in Aha! Roadmaps automatically update on your roadmap views, there is no work needed on your end to update any existing business roadmaps when plans shift. Everything happens in real time.

How should I plan my startup's first business roadmap?

The process of building a business roadmap is similar for startups and larger enterprises. Start by setting your goals and gathering insights from leadership and the market surrounding what your focus areas should be. You should then organize all of those insights into themes, prioritizing the initiatives that are most aligned with your goals. From there, add realistic time frames for completing each initiative and review your roadmap regularly to gauge progress and determine whether anything needs adjusting.

It is the actual content within a startup's business roadmap that will vary significantly. Both the goals and the work needed to get there will be much different from what you might see on a more established enterprise's roadmap. Rather than goals such as, say, launching an additional product line or expanding sales into a new country, an early-stage startup might aim to launch a Minimum Lovable Product and gain its first 50 customers. Startups seeking outside funding could set a goal to raise a specific amount of venture capital, whereas a bootstrapped startup might focus more on breaking into smaller markets and customer retention. No matter your startup's goals, though, they should appear on your business roadmap.

If you are curious about whether a product roadmap would work for your early-stage startup, try out this template. We also offer higher-fidelity business roadmapping options in Aha! Roadmaps that update automatically whenever your plans change.