What is a technology roadmap?
A technology roadmap, sometimes referred to as an IT roadmap, visualizes how technical capabilities evolve to support a business and its customers. It shows existing infrastructure, architecture, and processes as well as your plans for improving or adding to them. Think of a technology roadmap as an outline of the "why," "what," and "when" of major technology investments before you get to the "how" — the development and implementation work.
When you have core infrastructure needs to address, a technology roadmap is essential. The same goes for supporting growth-oriented innovation and managing technical debt. Roadmaps provide the link between this highly technical IT work and overall business goals — sharpening your focus on what is most important to the organization so you can deliver technology solutions faster.
Whoever manages the technical work for an organization should build the technology roadmap — most likely an IT manager, sometimes a technical product manager or program manager. To build it, many folks choose a robust roadmapping tool for dynamic and detailed views. Some prefer to start with a lightweight whiteboard template like this one in Aha! Notebooks to map out plans quickly.
Build a lightweight technology roadmap in Aha! Notebooks. Sign up for a free trial.
Technology roadmaps vary widely in scope — they can cover the technical capabilities for a single product, a full portfolio, or even an entire company. The way you build yours will depend on your plans and how your organization is structured. This guide offers an in-depth overview of what you should know about creating compelling roadmaps for any IT-related endeavor.
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Why do companies need a technology roadmap?
Companies rely on various technologies to support business operations. These technologies are often complex and resource-intensive. In order to be effective, the overall infrastructure must be strategically planned, organized, and communicated.
Technology roadmaps are a critical tool here. IT managers and other technical leads use these roadmaps to provide a clear path for the organization's desired technology approach — helping key stakeholders and cross-functional teams better grasp the requirements needed to reach the end goal.
Related: Why you need a strategic IT roadmap
Technology is a differentiator. Today's users want more than just a functional product — they want speed, security, reliability, and modernity. That is what makes technology a core component of your Complete Product Experience (CPE) along with marketing, sales, support systems, third-party integrations, support, and policies. Together these elements form a holistic approach to product development, which is something many organizations strive for.
The technology piece of a CPE can include the actual features of your product. It also includes the technology your company uses to deliver these features and support other CPE touchpoints. That means investing in technology that enables internal teams to achieve more, faster. When these investments happen on a major scale, this is digital transformation — where technology roadmaps are even more crucial to seeing your plans through.
Related: What does digital transformation really mean?
What are the benefits of a technology roadmap?
In addition to helping you achieve broad goals like CPE, technology roadmaps can benefit you in a number of other ways — making your approach to work more purposeful. Here is how:
Use a roadmap to show how your technology goals support company objectives. Demonstrate how the large areas of investment and specific features you are delivering contribute to the business. Then orient the team around your strategy and the work you will do to achieve it. A shared understanding of what you are building and why it matters fosters greater motivation.
Opportunity to innovate
Identify new ways to better serve the business and its customers. Technology is constantly evolving — you need to plan system improvements, roll out new tools, and provide the platforms needed for transformation initiatives. Building a technology roadmap can help guide how the team identifies and pursues opportunities for innovation.
Related: What is an innovation roadmap?
Use your technology roadmap to solidify your focus on valuable opportunities and create a plan for implementation. Vet projects against your strategy so you can focus on the work that is most urgent and impactful. This will help you make trade-off decisions, deliver on schedule, and limit technical debt. And when plans change, you can easily visualize what needs to shift on the timeline.
Share your plans and progress with the rest of the organization. Transparency builds trust and goodwill with leadership 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 their needs and the broader company goals, they are more likely to adopt new updates and tools when you roll them out.
Who is involved in building a technology roadmap?
Between IT managers, technical product managers, and other technical leads, whose job is it to build and own the technology roadmap? Answer: It varies. Organizations create a variety of different technology roadmaps — with various owners — to define current capabilities and plan for future improvements.
Depending on the team and what you are working on, your roadmaps may be more project-oriented, program-oriented, or a hybrid of systems and technology. For example, the roadmap below — created in Aha! Roadmaps — provides a snapshot of upcoming technology projects around process automation and data aggregation.
No matter what type of technology 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.
The table outlines different types of technology roadmaps, the use case for building each type, and who typically owns it:
Type of technology roadmap
IT systems roadmap
Technology projects roadmap
IT team roadmap
What are the components of a technology roadmap?
A technology roadmap communicates goals, initiatives, and upcoming enhancements on a timeline. It will often provide details on status and dependencies as well. Here is a quick list of the main components to include:
Measurable, time-bound objectives that you determine as part of the strategic planning process (e.g., Automate X percent of regression tests this year). Including goals in your roadmap allows you to show the "why" behind all of the detailed work.
Big themes of work or areas of focus that will help you achieve your goals. Displaying initiatives on a roadmap provides a link from the "why" to the "what" of the work.
Releases, schedules, or versions
Structure for communicating what is in scope in an upcoming sprint or release. Map your releases back to goals and initiatives to show how planned work connects to strategy.
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.
Time frames, dates, and milestones that show when the work will be delivered. You may want to differentiate between team readiness and when the new functionality will become available to customers (internal or external).
Accomplishments to be realized at specific points along the timeline. Milestones are typically tagged to specific dates and treated as performance targets to ensure the organization is on track.
Support or documentation with guidance on how to use the new technical capabilities. Training can mark the "launch" of a technology release.
Risks or dependencies
Internal and external barriers that may prevent the organization from achieving any goals or milestones. These include limitations of the technology itself, broader market conditions, or cross-functional capacity constraints.
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.
How to build a technology roadmap
While the details of what you show may vary, most technology roadmaps are built in a similar way. Here are six main steps to building an IT systems roadmap, technology projects roadmap, or IT team roadmap:
1. Start with strategy
Clarify what you want to achieve. Then, identify the goals and initiatives that you will pursue to achieve your strategy. This is the foundation that supports the work you will do. And remember — your technology goals should align with broader company goals as well so that you can ultimately deliver value to the business.
An example of the goals and initiatives you might include on a technology roadmap captured in Aha! Roadmaps.
2. Collect ideas and prioritize
You have a lot of ideas for what you want to accomplish. You also receive lots of requests for enhancements from other departments. Consider incorporating an idea management process so you can gather everything in a central place without disrupting daily work. Then use a scoring mechanism to evaluate and map ideas to in-progress initiatives or add tasks to your backlog of future work.
An example of how to track and prioritize technology requests in Aha! Ideas.
3. Define the work
Now you can define the "what" of your technology roadmap — the epics, features, user stories, requirements, and tasks that best support your strategy. Include enough details so that the whole IT team understands the desired outcome. If you work with an internal product manager, you will likely collaborate with them on requirements and feature definition.
Example features supporting technology initiatives shown on a workflow board in Aha! Roadmaps.
4. Organize into releases
Prioritizing features and adding them to releases is the "when" of roadmap planning. It is when you plan to deliver new enhancements to stakeholders. You might organize your releases around sprints or the days or weeks when you deploy meaningful changes to production.
5. Choose a view
Should you show a snapshot of upcoming work for the month or all major efforts happening over the next few quarters? You will want to tailor the roadmap view for your audience. For example, stick to high-level goal progress in leadership briefings and board meetings. In IT planning sessions, you may want to display detailed component, system, and governance plans.
An example of a drag-and-drop technology roadmap created in Aha! Roadmaps.
6. Update often
As plans evolve, your technology roadmap should be updated to reflect any changes in projects, timing, or priority. This helps the entire organization stay in the loop — making it clear how you are driving success both today and in the future.
With a dynamic roadmapping tool like Aha! Roadmaps, you can easily make these adjustments. You can enter goals, features, and requirements once, then instantly create as many roadmap views as you need. As the work gets underway, your technology roadmap is updated in real time. This lets you focus on the work that matters — rather than spend time adjusting the plan.
Power innovation across your organization with stunning technology roadmaps. Get started with a 30-day free trial of Aha! Roadmaps.
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