An introduction to technology roadmaps
Building great software and solutions is invigorating. IT teams are responsible for the architecture, applications, and technology that bring real value to both internal and external customers. Your work is critical to helping the organization increase efficiency and achieve its goals.
IT teams support the day-to-day work of nearly everyone in the organization — it is a huge responsibility. It means managing more requests for improvement than you can realistically deliver on. And it requires a deep understanding of what your users need, beyond what they ask for. In many ways, IT is evolving and now has more overlap with product management.
Forward-thinking IT leaders are adopting a product mindset and translating strategic plans into IT roadmaps. Roadmaps allow you to visually communicate the big areas of focus needed to meet business objectives and show the timeline for implementing the projects and solutions that align with the strategy. Whether you serve internal or external customers (or a mix of both), roadmaps help you sharpen focus on what is most important to the organization so you can deliver solutions faster.
What is a technology roadmap?
A technology roadmap, also called an IT roadmap, is a tool to visualize how IT will evolve to support the business and its core products. Technology roadmaps outline the "why," "what," and "when" of major IT investments before you start the "how" — the development and implementation work. These roadmaps are essential to getting complex work done — such as addressing technical debt, infrastructure, and growth-oriented innovation.
A technology roadmap shows the technology currently available today and highlights improvements that are scheduled in the future. A technology roadmap also considers when a technology may be scheduled for end-of-life. For example, when a core CRM system is being replaced by a new one, a technology roadmap will highlight when support for the current CRM will end and when the new CRM will be brought online.
The technology roadmap is typically owned by the engineering and operations teams. After all, these teams are focused on the components, systems, and processes that help other internal teams deliver products and services to external customers.
Other common IT roadmaps
You can create different roadmaps to showcase various plans, timelines, and more detailed work. For instance, you may want one roadmap that visualizes infrastructure and operations capabilities and another that highlights planned improvements for applications and services. Common roadmap types include the following:
IT systems roadmap
An IT systems roadmap identifies the systems that enable core capabilities across the organization. It outlines current capabilities, future IT needs, and the improvements you plan to make in order to reach your strategic goals. For example, an IT systems roadmap would communicate plans about the major systems used to run your business. These might include technologies like your customer relationship management system (CRM), enterprise resource planning system (ERP), data analytics platforms, and identity management tools.
Each functional group within the IT department may want its own roadmap for special projects or initiatives. For example, you may build a separate roadmap for the security and compliance team. Or you might want a roadmap for the organization's DevOps initiatives.
Components of an IT roadmap
The purpose of an IT roadmap is to communicate plans and progress. The details you choose to include should fit the needs of your audience — helping them understand what to expect in the next few weeks or months and whether any work is at risk. Most roadmaps will include some of the following components:
Goals are measurable, time-bound objectives that you determine as part of the strategic planning process. For example, many IT teams set goals to cut operating costs, enhance automation, or improve the release management process. Including goals in your roadmap allows you to show the "why" behind all of the detailed work.
Initiatives are the big themes of work or areas of focus that will help you achieve your goals. If you aim to improve the release management process, for instance, work might be divided into separate initiatives for different phases of the release cycle. Displaying initiatives on a roadmap provides a link from the "why" to the "what" of the work.
Features, user stories, or tasks
A more detailed roadmap may include information about individual features, user stories, or tasks — all the work that satisfies a given initiative. If you are sharing your roadmap with the leadership team, you may not need this level of detail. However, it can be useful to include feature details when sharing the roadmap with the engineers and operators who will be completing the work.
Releases, schedules, or versions
Organize features into releases, schedules, or versions to communicate what is in scope in an upcoming sprint or release. Map these releases back to goals and initiatives to show how planned work connects to strategy.
Include time frames, dates, and milestones to show when the work will be delivered. You may want to differentiate between internal readiness and when the new functionality or update becomes available to internal or external customers.
Many roadmaps include status labels, colors, or other indicators to show when work is on track or at risk. This gives the team a chance to highlight areas of concern or ask for help if needed.
Common IT roadmap views
The components you choose to display on your roadmap will depend on the audience and the information they need to see. Executives and stakeholders will want to see long-term plans and high-level priorities. Developers and operators will likely want to see the features and requirements that need to be prioritized next. The roadmap views presented here include:
Highlights work across multiple groups, projects, or applications
Displays the high-level areas of focus for the team
Provides a detailed timeline of when work will be completed
Offers a unique view for a specific audience
Portfolio roadmaps display work across different groups or projects. Viewing the entire team's initiatives on a single roadmap paints a picture of the department as a whole. Executives and cross-functional teams can easily understand the overall direction and strategy across the IT department, and how projects relate to one another.
In the example below, each functional group — infrastructure, architecture, services, and DevOps — has a set of initiatives that correspond to team-level goals.
A strategy roadmap represents strategic initiatives and the features and dependencies within each. IT teams typically use strategy roadmaps to showcase current priorities and to provide progress updates to internal teams.
The features roadmap is tremendously helpful for folks who are implementing the work. This roadmap gives a detailed view of the individual features included within a release. It can be useful to add status labels, category tags, and other indicators that will help the team draw conclusions about progress and the balance of work.
Many IT teams also build custom roadmaps to suit their needs. Maybe you are preparing a quarterly report or presenting to the entire IT department. The example roadmap below shows how releases relate to specific goals and how each release is progressing. This could be a useful roadmap for a department-wide meeting when you want to connect each release or version within a project to an important business objective.
Each of these roadmap views was created in Aha! Roadmaps — roadmapping software that includes workspaces purpose-built for IT teams.
What to consider when building a technology roadmap
Having a strategic IT roadmap helps you move from reactively responding to tactical requests to proactively planning the technical capabilities your organization will need long-term. Here are a few things to consider when building your own strategic roadmap:
Understanding who your colleagues are is a fundamental step towards building your roadmap. You need to know their challenges and needs. You need to talk to them about the solutions you are proposing.
Ask colleagues for ideas and feedback. Tell them what is coming next. Cross-functional collaboration builds goodwill and keeps everybody in sync.
IT goals should align with company goals
The work that IT does supports the teams that serve external customers. So the goals for your IT department should align with broader company goals as well. The work that you include on your technology roadmap should ultimately deliver value to the business.
Connect goals with initiatives
Before getting into tactical planning, agree on the initiatives or large areas of work that will help you achieve your goals. Whether you call these initiatives, themes, or epics, it is crucial that you visually link them to the goals on your technology roadmap. Later, determine the detailed work that belongs to each initiative. When you connect goals with initiatives on your roadmap, your audience is able to see how your plans help advance your strategy.
Real-time updates are key
You may have put together a technology roadmap at the beginning of the year — but have you updated it recently? How often do you share it with the rest of the organization? Your roadmap should be up-to-date and connected to real work. That way, people can navigate to the details they need and locate the status of work-in-progress.
IT teams need great technology, too — sign up for a free 30-day trial of Aha! Roadmaps to visualize your strategy, manage ideas, build an IT roadmap, and measure results all in one place.