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What is a business roadmap?
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Andrei
Andrei UX Expert
Updated on
March 23 2020
12 mins read

What is a Business Roadmap — How To Set Up a Business Roadmap In 2020

Airbnb is one of the biggest success stories of the modern age.

Anyone in the world can list their free space for rent or book a night in a stranger’s apartment, treehouse or castle in minutes. 

At the time of their last fundraising in March 2017, Airbnb raised more than $3 billion — valuing the company at over $31 billion. 

Not bad for a business model written on a single piece of paper back in 2014.

This ‘document’ — half-jokingly referred to as "the infamous paper to take over the world" by Chip ­Conley, then Airbnb’s head of global hospitality — outlined specific objectives, features, key dates, and important milestones.

It condensed months of strategic thinking, planning, and research in displayed it in a way that was easy to review, keeping the entire company focused on becoming a billion-dollar unicorn.

That, my friends, is the incredible power of a business roadmap. 

What is a business roadmap?

A business roadmap is a long-term strategic document that shows where your company is going and the steps required to get there.

Unlike lengthy business plans, it does not show the individual items and activities required in fine detail.

Instead, it focuses on the big picture, clearly showing your company’s major objectives and the high-level strategies it will use to achieve these — this helps keep stakeholders and team members aligned and on-track to succeed.

But most importantly, business roadmaps are not set in stone. The activities and priorities outlined in a business roadmap are open to debate and can be reshuffled if needed to better reflect the current environment.

The most common use case for a business roadmap is to show how the business plans to grow, but they can be used for other strategic projects, such as change management, enterprise architecture projects or even by individual departments.

Who can use a business roadmap?

Whether you are an entrepreneur, a business owner, or a marketing manager, everyone can use a business roadmap to make communicating complicated strategy effortless.

You can even use a business roadmap to plan your own career path — what do you want to achieve, by when and why?

By identifying potential opportunities to grow and develop, as well as the partners and resources you’ll need to make that happen, you’ll be in the driver’s seat, whichever industry you work in.

Entrepreneurs

As an entrepreneur, a business roadmap is critical.

You've probably got a million ideas, and just as many responsibilities, so regularly reviewing your twenty-page business plan simply isn’t possible (or advisable!).

Instead, you should create a business roadmap.

At a glance, you can see how your current activities relate to your business's long term strategic objectives and instantly make changes if required.

As a roadmap is so easy to review, you can share this with new team members to quickly bring them up to speed. You could also use it to get buy-in from investors; quickly illustrating your future growth potential and what their investment would enable you to achieve.

Business owners

As a business leader, you likely have a crystal clear idea of where you want to take the organization in the future. You wake up every morning with a mission in mind — after all, you built this company with purpose, and that purpose acts as your true north in everything you do.

You know where you’re going… but does anyone else?

For small business owners, a business roadmap is essential.

It helps you structure your vision, reign in your ambition and see the essential steps required to move forward. You'll also be able to predict risks along the way and what resources you'll need to bring your dream to life. For example, you may have ambitious development tasks up ahead — the remit for which lies beyond your personal technical capabilities. Here, finding an appropriate partner will be necessary to avoid any costly mistakes.

For more established companies, a business roadmap will help you explore new directions, identify inefficiencies and fine-tune your focus as the market evolves.

If you are looking to sell your company, you might not be focused on long-term strategy. However, an effective roadmap will increase the value of your business.

In this instance, a business roadmap will help stabilize and motivate your management team. With a clear direction, your key personnel can continue to do their best work, even if you leave the business.

It will also show real potential for growth, demonstrating to buyers the potential future value of your business. 

Business managers

Managers are uniquely placed to recognize business needs and opportunities.

You see what happens every day, on the ‘front line’, but you’ve also got access to the C-Suite to ask for further funding.

Perhaps you've got big ideas on how to achieve your goals and need to convince senior management or executives in your organization. Perhaps you need more team members, resources or just support for your strategy.

So how do you get it?

Don't waste your time writing a lengthy document or a complicated presentation.

Instead, use a business roadmap.

By boiling down your big idea to key steps, you'll keep your audience engaged and focused on the benefits of your strategy, rather than the difficult implementation details. 

Business roadmap vs business plan — what’s the difference?

Historically, business plans have been an essential document for any business.

As little as a decade ago, if you approached someone with a business concept without a fully-bound, multipage, business plan, you'd have been called naive and underprepared.

However, attitudes are changing. And the entire business world has become more fast-moving and agile. 

Stories of businesses raising millions in investment from just a pitch deck (Uber) or a 1-page document (Airbnb), are now commonplace and lengthy business plans feel like a thing of the past.

So, let's put a business plan and a business roadmap head-to-head...

What is a business plan?

A business plan is a document that explains the commercial potential of a business. 

There are no rules for what it should include, but it generally takes an essay format with structured sections that explain what your company is going to do, how it will achieve its goals, what the key risks are and what the opportunity is. It often includes projected cash flow and other financial predictions.

Sure, they might be traditional, but a comprehensive business plan does have its advantages:

  1. It demonstrates to investors, lenders and other interested parties that you've done the research necessary to build the business correctly.

  2. It shows the financial viability of your company in detail.

  3. It helps get everyone involved on the same page and aligned on the direction of the company.

  4. It might be required to get business loans or government grants. Some traditional investors expect to see a lengthy business plan.

There is hard evidence of the effectiveness of good business plans too — a study by Professor Andrew Burke from the Cranfield School of Management proved that companies that write plans and use them grow 30% faster than businesses that fail to plan. 

The problem with business plans...

Thing is, a comprehensive business plan takes time to create.

Choosing the right words, creating countless tables and doing comprehensive research might reveal valuable insights and tell a compelling story, but it also drags you away from building your product, talking to customers, or getting real market feedback.

In 2018, the Harvard Business Review wrote:

 “The real key to succeeding in business is being flexible and responsive to opportunities. Entrepreneurs often have to pivot their business once it becomes clear that their original customer is not the right customer, or when it turns out that their product or service fits better in an alternate market. Because of these realities, business plans are written at the start end up nothing more than a fable.”

Enter: the business roadmap and all its benefits! 

This is where a business roadmap truly excels. By focusing on high-level steps, the benefits are:

  1. It can be reviewed quickly and constantly, enabling everyone to check if they are on track.

  2. When the product, market or opportunity shifts, the roadmap can be modified quickly.

  3. It keeps the business focused on the big picture, spotting potential roadblocks and obstacles earlier.

So, which is best?

A business plan is still a critical document for many businesses today, particularly those who need one to secure funding, financing or convince traditional investors.

Yet, modern businesses benefit from increased agility, making a business roadmap a leaner, faster and more responsive document.

In our view, there’s one clear winner: the business roadmap. However, most of the time, a business roadmap and a business plan work hand-in-hand.

How to define goals for a business roadmap

By now, you should have an understanding of what a business roadmap is and how it can be applied in your business to map your strategic direction.

Probably you’re pretty eager to get started building your roadmap now.

But, it's important to realize that the strategic thought that takes place before you create your roadmap is just as valuable as the act of creating the roadmap itself.

Start with foundations by setting effective goals.

Then, build your roadmap to achieve these goals.

1. Understanding long-term goals

What do you want to achieve in the next 3 to 5 years?

These long-term goals will help shape your business roadmap — if an activity doesn’t play a role in helping you reach a long-term goal, then it doesn’t deserve a place in the roadmap today.

Long-term goals can be associated with:

  • Revenue: The simplest to explain but the hardest to achieve, e.g. increasing profits or revenue by a certain percentage within a defined time.

  • Growth: Expand the company through new employees, resources or other key measures.

  • Service and reputation: Improve the quality of your services, leading to increased customer satisfaction or customer retention.

  • Social: Increasingly, businesses are setting long-term goals to give back to society or the environment.

2. Setting Short-term goals

The context set by long-term goals helps you identify what you need to do in the near future, to progress along your strategic journey. Short-term goals are ideal milestones or destinations for your roadmap.

Remember, the best short term goals are SMART:

  1. Specific. They should be targeted and highly detailed, so they can be easily understood.

  2. Measurable. Set a metric that can be continually reviewed. This will prove progress is being made.

  3. Action-oriented. Specify what actions need to be taken and when.

  4. Realistic. Goals should be challenging but achievable. Make your goals realistic by reflecting on your past performance.

  5. Time-specific. Look ahead and set a hard deadline to keep things on track. 

3. Speak with stakeholders

Once you've got a solid understanding of both your long and short-term goals, it's essential to get your team or employees motivated to achieve them.

Involve them in the process of creating your goals and listen intently to their feedback. After all, if they feel they helped shape where the company is headed, they will be more motivated to get there.

4. Identify key steps on your roadmap

Now for the exciting part — the first steps of building your roadmap:

  1. Look at your goals and consider what major steps will be required to achieve them.

  2. Annotate each of those steps with a brief high-level description.

  3. Place these steps into order and consider whether you will have the resources required (such as people and time) to complete them. Make sure you can defend why the steps should be completed in this order. 

  4. Critique your roadmap — is this realistic? If conditions change, can your roadmap adapt?

How to prioritize using a business roadmap

No team has unlimited resources. 

So to help you decide which projects or initiatives deserve a place in your business roadmap, you need to prioritize. This will make sure you get the most impact on your goals with the fewest resources possible.

There are many different approaches to prioritizing a roadmap, but the most quantitative and scientific way is to use a "prioritization matrix" or "weighted scoring model". This is a proven and field-tested framework, used by companies like Nike, Shell, and The Washington Post. It will identify key risks and help your roadmap be as focused and successful as possible.

We built ready-to-use prioritization frameworks within all of our templates, so you don’t need to invent your own. But, if you prefer to do it manually, here is a step-by-step business roadmap prioritization guide.

1. Determine choices

Write down all the possible things you could add to your roadmap right now. For example, this could be a new sales initiative, a new marketing campaign or a recruitment cycle.

2. Pick and rate criteria

Next, you need to figure out how you'll decide which item is more important than the others. These will be unique to your organization but could be current business goals like revenue increase, cost to implement or strategic fit.

You can optionally assign these items a weight, showing how important each of the criteria is to your business.

For example, your primary goal for the year might be to increase revenue, so you might double the weight of this criteria. 

Place these criteria into a table as below:

On a simple 1-5 scale, rate each of the rows in the columns. 5 is most desirable and 1 is least desirable — for example, for 5 could mean high revenue potential and lowest cost.

3. Calculate

Multiply your scores by their weight. The highest scoring total rows are your priorities. 

Now you understand how to use this matrix, you'll be able to plan and explain your prioritization decisions to stakeholders.

To save time, try using the airfocus built-in scoring feature and prioritization tool, which does all the hard calculations work for you.

A quick rundown of business roadmap templates...

You don’t need to start from scratch with your business roadmap.

These templates all allow for unique roadmapping requirements — including a built-in prioritization feature, which can flex to your unique criteria.

  • For marketing teams, calculate the impact of your work with this marketing planning and prioritization template. Simply change the value criteria from brand awareness to whatever KPI you are tracking.

  • Business owner, strategist, consultant or executive? Get everyone on the same page instantly with our business project roadmap template. Justify your decisions and spend with the built-in prioritization matrix

  • Startup founder? Build a billion-dollar empire by bringing order to chaos with this startup roadmap template. It'll tell you in seconds what you should be working on next.

How to make a business roadmap with airfocus:

Creating a business roadmap is simple with airfocus.

  1. Start by selecting our business roadmap template. We offer pre-built templates for a wide range of situations that are fully adjustable and built on proven decision-making and roadmapping methods. Plus, our templates are fully customizable — giving you the best of both worlds.

  2. Add your projects, features, and initiatives manually or import them from your existing tools. Airfocus integrates Jira, Trello, Asana or CSV as well as 1000+ other tools via Zapier. 

  3. Once you've added your items you can map your priorities on a chart to better understand what projects are most important.

  4. Next, organize your items into a beautiful roadmap with a simple drag-and-drop. a. Prioritization Chart

    b. Timeline view

    c. Board view

  5. Finally, share your roadmap in minutes through a share link, so everyone is aligned with your strategy. When your priorities change, so too will the shared version of it, keeping everyone in the loop.

  6. Don't forget to regularly revisit your roadmap to make sure you are on track!

Finally, a business roadmap checklist — are you ready?

Don’t worry if your head is spinning a little with all this new information.

Once you’re in the swing of things, creating a business roadmap will become second nature. 

For now, though, simply follow the checklist to make sure you’ve crossed all the Ts and dotted all the Is...

Strategy and ownership:

  • Is your roadmap centered around achieving a clear mission, vision or goal?

  • Do you have cross-business buy-in from stakeholders to ensure support throughout the project?

  • Have you secured and funded the resources required?

  • Have you allocated each work item in the roadmap, to encourage accountability?

Scoping and analysis:

  • Is the roadmap structured around major themes and events?

  • Is the scope of the roadmap clearly defined, with set timeframes?

  • Is it obvious what the key milestones are and what success will look like at these stages?

  • Are your items prioritized, with the reason for their prioritization clearly recorded?

Measurement and communication:

  • Remember, transparency encourages efficient and honest communication — is your roadmaps easily accessible to stakeholders and implementation teams?

  • Is it clear who should make changes to the roadmap if and when it’s necessary?

Reality check:

  • Have you allowed for an on-going review of the roadmap, to check progress and make corrections?

  • Is the pace of change achievable with the resources available?

  • Have you accounted for dependencies between items — and conceived of workarounds — to avoid last-minute blockers?

Answered ‘yes’ to all of the above?

Bravo!

Now, you are ready to go! 

Don’t forget, a business roadmap isn’t designed to replace the business plan entirely. Instead, a roadmap will help you stay on track and quickly reshuffle your priorities — visually communicating changes to all stakeholders, whilst supporting strategic decisions with valid data.

If you’re totally new to roadmapping, there are tonnes more to learn over on our blog.

airfocus was designed to help managers get the right stuff done, so there’s no shame in using one of our business roadmap templates to get started. There are dozens to choose from on our website, so go take a look. Or watch our short video on how to get started:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKWdpud-44I&t=7s

Andrei
Andrei UX Expert
Updated on
March 23 2020
Powerful prioritization &
clear roadmaps
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