The Importance of a Project Roadmap

Every project has a timeline, schedule, project plan, backlog, task list, or some form of tracking to understand what the definition of done is for the project. However, many projects slip by without fully exploring and creating the project roadmap. It is vital for organizations to understand the importance of project roadmaps as projects become more complicated with each passing year.

The project roadmap is a straightforward concept. It is a high-level timeline of project goals & deliverables that outline all interdependent or interrelated events. The project roadmap aligns business objectives and milestones, development and releases timelines, IT and operational dependencies, and project risks. It tells us how are we going to get from A to B… while still meeting C & D, avoiding E and accounting for F & G. It may very well be my favorite tool – let me explain why.

Real-life Roadmap

Imagine you are planning a weekend trip with two friends. In this scenario the end goal or destination is Chicago. You are traveling from Kansas City by plane. Your friend, Ingrid, is moving from St. Louis by train. Your other friend, Vernon, is visiting from Indianapolis by car. For all three of you to make it to Chicago for your short weekend getaway, each parallel timeline cannot afford a hitch.

Itinerary: You

  • You booked your plane ticket five months out to avoid a $200 price increase in your plane ticket.
  • Your flight is on time, and you arrived at the scheduled time.
  • You planned to meet Ingrid at the train station near the airport and take the train together with the remaining distance to downtown Chicago.

Itinerary: Ingrid

  • The price of Ingrid’s train ticket was three times higher due to the popularity of her departure time. However, booking this departure time was necessary to meet everyone in Chicago around the same timeframe.
  • Ingrid’s train was delayed 6 hours due to maintenance issues.
  • With her current delay, you will now have to wait 6 hours to meet up with her before taking the train downtown together.
  • Ingrid is deliberating buying a plane ticket so that she can make up time, but the plane ticket is last-minute and very expensive.

Itinerary: Vernon

  • Since Vernon planned to drive, he did not need to worry about the cost of his trip increasing. He only had fixed gas expenses.
  • Vernon left Indianapolis mid-day and ended up hitting rush hour traffic when he got to Chicago. Traffic delayed him by two hours.
  • Vernon made the hotel reservations under his name, so he is required to be at the hotel before anyone can check in.

With the unexpected delay of the train, you are now losing 6 hours of prime time in your weekend getaway. Each mitigation option has a consequence:

  • You could take the train downtown by yourself, but you will not be able to check into the hotel until Vernon arrives.
  • Vernon could drive to pick you up at the airport, and both of you could go downtown together, but you will then need to budget for the extra mileage.
  • Ingrid could pay the extra cost for a last-minute plane ticket.
  • Everyone could change the destination and plan to meet up in Joliet, Illinois instead. This change would allow Ingrid to get off the train at an earlier stop and you would get at least 3 hours back for your weekend getaway. However, Joliet was not exactly your idea of the best destination.

This scenario seems like a typical situation in trying to plan anything with a group of friends, just like the seemingly inevitable issues that arise when executing a project. The factors affecting the quality of your weekend getaway were both controlled and environmental. However, if we look at this scenario as if it were a project, we could have planned appropriately to help account for these factors and ultimately reduced cost, increased quality (time) of the weekend, and delivered all of you to the expected destination.

Let’s replace the notion of you with a development team, Ingrid is the infrastructure team, Vernon is the vendor and Chicago is a fully functioning web portal. Without aligning the teams, dependencies and risks, you are now looking at using extra resources (mileage), changing the final deliverable (destination), or increasing budget (buy a plane ticket) to ensure a quality product.  Your stakeholders are not going to like the outcome so far.

Summary of Benefits

A project roadmap helps to keep tabs on all the moving pieces and allows the project leads to make informative and proactive decisions. If used correctly, it can be a powerful tool in providing value to you, your team, stakeholders, executives, vendors, or anyone involved with the project. A good project roadmap will offer the following benefits:

  • A visual representation of the project that is easy to understand, digest and remember.
  • Coordination of teams, resources, funding, and deadlines.
  • Visibility to all aspects of the project across teams, organizations, and companies.
  • Accountability and ownership of deliverables.
  • A shared understanding and an agreement to objectives and milestones from all parties involved.
  • Reduced Risks and Costs with proactive planning, mitigation, and coordination.


A project roadmap in the scenario of ‘Project Chicago’ would have ensured that you and your friends had the best possible weekend getaway. Ingrid could have reduced her costs by proposing another meeting time in Chicago, or even another weekend. To reduce risk, you could have lent some of your airline points (aka project resources) to Ingrid so that she could fly to Chicago instead. Having visibility to the restrictions around hotel check-in would have triggered you to have Vernon contact the hotel and put your name and Ingrid’s name on the reservation, too. A simple trip with a couple of friends doesn’t have to be a ‘Que Sera, Sera’ sort of event, and neither should your projects.

As your team begins any new initiative, think about creating a project roadmap to help bring the project to fruition. We often accept the unexpected environmental factors, exceeded budget, delays, and changes as events that just happen on projects. A project roadmap can eliminate or reduce these negative factors, leaving you with a happy team, a happy stakeholder, and a nice trip to Chicago.

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