A project roadmap is an overview of the key stages of a project. It’s typically built to a timeline and includes deliverables, objectives, milestones, and resources.
Unlike a detailed project plan, a project roadmap provides a high-level view without delving into day-to-day tasks and owners.
Project managers use roadmaps to give teams and stakeholders a snapshot view of a project’s status, helping keep everyone aligned. Or, put otherwise, a project roadmap will clearly communicate the strategic decision behind why a project is being delivered in the first place. For example, it may articulate the overarching company objectives that the project aligns with, or how it may be impacted by company-wide dependencies and updates.
Critical elements include:
An overview of the project
Schedule and timeline for completion
How resources are being allocated
Project roadmaps act as a reference point to ensure everyone on the team shares the same understanding of a project’s strategic objectives.
As projects progress, the market environment can change, and new information can arise that needs to be factored into the project’s execution.
Having a ‘single source of truth’ to refer to makes it easier to re-allocate budgets, re-assign individuals to new tasks, or change the priority of completion.
Project roadmaps can also help keep stakeholders in alignment with the project’s objectives — especially if business conditions or priorities change.
They can help project managers secure buy-in for any course changes by quickly answering the key questions executives or other departments might have, for example:
When a phase of a project is set to be complete
Which milestones have been hit
Clarifying if the project is on track to hit budget.
There are similarities between project and product roadmaps, and sometimes the terms get confused.
A product roadmap tracks the development of a good or service. Products can be services, subscriptions, software or physical goods. Product roadmaps are constantly evolving, and will continue indefinitely.
A project roadmap captures the series of tasks that need to be completed within a set time to achieve a core objective. Once the objective has been achieved, the project is complete. Project roadmaps tend to be finite in nature: i.e. they have a start and end.
A product roadmap can have projects embedded within it, but each project will have a firm timeline with agreed start and end dates.
Product roadmaps need to have more fluid timelines to allow for changes such as reorganized priorities or changing business objectives.
Project roadmaps need to be more strict in terms of when completion and/or delivery will take place.
An effective project roadmap ensures everyone on a team has the same understanding of scope, objectives, and deadlines. It also helps project managers quickly communicate goals and share the latest status.
Project roadmaps can also be an effective tool for managing stakeholder expectations. They help ensure everyone is on the same page, while separating the flexible aspects of a project from those that are must-do.
As with stakeholders, they can also simplify communication with other outside teams or departments whose input is needed for the project to succeed.
Building and maintaining a project roadmap can also create challenges. For example:
Project roadmaps may be unrealistic or over-ambitious in terms of planning for the future, leading to delays, cost overruns, or mismatched expectations.
If roadmaps aren’t continually updated, projects can fall behind schedule or miss a significant market opportunity.
Alternatively, if a project roadmap is updated too frequently, teams can lose confidence in long-term or strategic decisions.
Excessive detail can make project roadmaps challenging to use or comprehend. Adding too much information can make what should be an overview look more like a project plan.