As a project manager, your job is to see the entire project reach 100% completion. To get there, you’ll need strategic, expert communication that generates alignment on your project right from the beginning. What do you need to make that happen? A project roadmap template is the best tool available to help you do exactly that.
The project roadmap probably won’t make it on the cool-kid list of the most popular project management charts. But it might just be one of the most significant in helping you lead your team across the finish line.
This article has everything you need to create a project roadmap template for any project. After reading, you will:
- Know what a project roadmap is and why it’s important;
- Be able to describe the difference between the project roadmap and the project plan;
- Understand the key elements of a project roadmap;
- Get started on building your very own project roadmap template today;
- Feel confident to present the overview of any project to key stakeholders.
Let’s get started.
What Is a Project Roadmap?
A project roadmap is a concise, high-level overview of a project that includes milestones, deliverables, and a timeline among other elements. It’s a visual representation of what will happen and when it will happen in the project. It should also be a real-time indicator of what’s going on at any point in the project.
Because a roadmap focuses on the big picture, it’s the primary tool that communicates the strategic vision for the project. It can also be an integral piece to helping your team be as effective as possible as they work together.
Project Roadmap vs. Project Plan
What’s the difference between a project roadmap and a project plan? They aren’t the same thing, but they are related.
Put simply, a project roadmap is a high-level view of your project while a project plan is a detailed view of the project. Let’s take a closer look at each.
The project plan is a detailed document that outlines the who, what, when, where, and how of the project. It’s one very large document that actually consists of several smaller documents, such as the project charter, the statement of work, contracts, the scope management plan, the quality management plan, the schedule management plan, the cost management plan, and so on.
In some ways, the project roadmap is a visual summary of the project plan. It takes the essential elements of the plan and provides a bite-size, big picture view so that the team and key stakeholders can find relevant information quickly.
The roadmap is important for communication, but keep in mind that it’s not a reporting tool, per se. Think of the roadmap more like a reference tool for a status update of the project at any one point in time. It’s there for when someone on the project needs an immediate check-in.
On the other hand, anyone who needs to know about the finer details of any aspect of the project can consult the project plan when necessary.
What Kind of Projects Need a Roadmap?
It’s tempting to think you can skip over creating a roadmap. After all, who needs a simple document that only contains high-level information? As we showed above, it’s helpful to start with the roadmap before building the detailed project plan. It’s also helpful for your team and stakeholders.
But does every project need a roadmap?
Any project with specific goals, a budget, a timeline, and multiple stakeholders should use a project roadmap. And let’s be honest: that’s most projects!
Your roadmap gives everyone involved a quick, clear picture of the defined scope, cost factors, criteria, requirements, communication expectations, and any risks facing the project.
For example, if you are a company like LawRank that provides SEO services to clients, you would need a project roadmap to highlight the main focuses of your plan for each client–what web design is going to suit this company’s branding, what content you should create for the client’s blog, how you can optimize their on-site optimization, and much more.
Just like a reliable map when you’re on a road trip, the roadmap makes for easier navigation as you go through the project.
So let’s ask it again: what kind of projects need a roadmap?
Your project does!
What Are the Key Elements of a Project Roadmap?
When creating a project roadmap, remember that there isn’t a one size fits all approach. As the Project Manager, you get to take control and craft it in such a way that the design makes the most sense for you and your team. However, there are several basic elements that you should include in your roadmap for it to have maximum effectiveness.
- Objectives. What was the glorious, dynamic benefit your sales team promised to the customer in the first place? That’s your objective. It’s the “why” behind everything that happens in the project.
- Deliverables. What is the end-user ultimately receiving? Deliverables are those tangible things that enable the objective to be accomplished.
- Milestones & Timeline. Stakeholders will be interested to know how the project is tracking over time and if you are ahead, on, or behind schedule. For example, if you own an eCommerce company, they would be interested in knowing the answers to questions like:
- How is your team dealing with order management?
- Are they meeting deadlines and delivering orders within the promised timeframe?
- Resources. Who is doing what? (And when–check the timeline!) If there’s a change in personnel or additions/reductions, this will be updated to reflect those new realities.
- Budget. Stakeholders, executives, and customers need a quick status update on how the project is doing financially.
- Dependencies. Are there certain things that must be completed first before another activity begins?
- Risks. Some project managers may not think to add these to a roadmap, but risks are important enough that they should be included. Your stakeholders are spending hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars on this project. Risks are important and shouldn’t be overlooked.
This might seem like a lot to put on a “high-level” document. But you can do it rather easily, especially if you use the right software (we’ll get to that in a second).
7 Steps to Create a Project Roadmap Template
We’ve looked at what a project roadmap is, what kind of projects use it, and what its main components are. At this point, putting together a project roadmap will be pretty straightforward. Let’s look at seven steps that will help you create your very own project roadmap template that you can use on any project in any industry.
When it comes to project meetings, remember that you can present your project roadmap as a timeline with swimlanes with the help of valuable productivity tools like the Office Timeline add-in for PowerPoint, which also offers free templates for project roadmaps in Excel and PowerPoint.
1. Choose the Right Project Management Software
If you want a project roadmap that works for you, then you need to find the right software to help you build it. Of course, you could string together some colorful rows in Excel if you’re doing small projects infrequently. But if you’re handling moderate to major projects regularly, you’ll need quality project management software to help you do the heavy lifting.
Software can help you build multiple views and integrate various documents/charts. Goodbye, messy spreadsheets. Hello, beauty, simplicity, and functionality.
2. Complete the Project Planning Phase
You can’t just create a roadmap out of thin air. Planning has to happen first. The project planning phase is the precursor to the roadmap. Think of it as the raw data that the roadmap uses, summarizes, and is finally communicated in that bite-sized format.
The planning phase will include meetings with stakeholders and customers, research, scheduling, resource allocation, budget decisions, and receiving final approval. All of these steps help contribute to a successful project that aligns with the sponsor’s vision and overall objectives.
3. Create the Project Roadmap before the Full Project Plan
As a project manager, you can build out the project documents however you choose, but you might find it helpful to start with the roadmap before completing the project plan. Why? Think of the roadmap as the forest and the plan as the trees. And you know how the saying goes: “Don’t lose the forest for the trees.”
Once you understand the project’s big picture, you’ll be able to take that deep dive into every area of your project (“the trees”). But if you don’t see the overarching, strategic reason for the project in the first place, filling in the details will be difficult, if not impossible.
4. Identify Key Deliverables and Project Timeline
To have a solid grasp of the key milestones and deliverables, project managers need to have a keen understanding of the process that’s played out with the customer before the project launch. You might consider consulting the project proposal from earlier in the sales process.
Additionally, if your project creates a product or service that reaches an end-user beyond your key stakeholders and/or customer, you’ll want to make sure the stated deliverables align with the customer’s buyer persona created long before the project ever landed on your desk. Ignoring what’s happened before the project officially began could be detrimental to its success.
Defining the timeline should be a straightforward process. With your team, plan out how long the project is expected to last and list the milestones on a calendar to create the timeline or use a timeline maker.
5. Create the First Draft of Your Roadmap
Whether you’ve worked on five projects or 500, you need a rough draft before the roadmap is finalized and approved. Using the tool of your choice, enter all the necessary data and place them on the timeline to get instant project tracking.
Remember to create a realistic roadmap. As you begin to plot all the elements from the previous section, ask yourself if anything seems unlikely or impossible. Some things (like cost or even the schedule), you can’t change. But whatever you can, work that into your first draft.
6. Invite Feedback
Before you begin the project and begin pumping out deliverables, you need feedback from your stakeholders and customers. Take that amazing first draft you put together and share it with the primary decision-makers. The single most important question to answer is: does this roadmap meet their needs and expectations? To help stakeholders and customers answer that, you may need to ask:
- Is the big picture of the project looking like what you imagined?
- Are we hitting the defined scope of the project on time and within the budget?
- Are the right people doing the right activities, in the right order?
- Do you notice any issues with the project’s dependencies?
7. Evaluate and Refine
Here is where the fun begins! Once the project is underway, as project manager, you get to track the progress and update the roadmap every single day work is done on the project.
In a perfect world, nothing on your project will ever change. But that’s not the world we live in. All the more in the project management world. Change is a given. Resources may not be available. Costs increase. An activity you thought would take a week takes a month. Build time for evaluation and updating your schedule.
How to Use a Project Roadmap to Report to Stakeholders
Roadmaps are the primary tool your team will use to maintain that big picture view of where the project is at any moment in time. They can also be a valuable tool for key stakeholders, particularly executives and customers.
We’ve talked about how you will include stakeholders throughout the roadmap creation process. But how can you use the roadmap throughout the project to communicate with stakeholders? Whether you meet with stakeholders once a week or once a quarter, here are four tips to help you share the roadmap in a way that will more easily communicate your project’s progress.
1. Come ready with a plan.
The old cliché, “If you fail to plan you plan to fail.” As a project manager, you know that better than anyone. So don’t wing it when you share your roadmap with stakeholders. Every time you go into a stakeholder reporting meeting, you should know exactly what you will say. Prepare a simple outline that shares why you’re doing what you’re doing, what you are doing, and how you are doing it.
You can even utilize assessment software to emphasize the visual roadmap as you tell the story of your project so far.
2. Be concise.
Say just enough to justify why you believe the project is going well. Be clear and direct. If there are problems and you need help, share that, too. But don’t complicate things. The more you say, the less your stakeholders will retain. Remember, too, that your stakeholders are busy people. Don’t use jargon–not all of your stakeholders will be familiar with some of the terminology your teammates use. Also, don’t flood your roadmap visual with too much text. Take advantage of color coding and the features the software offers.
3. Include “percent complete” for each stage or deliverable.
Since the roadmap is designed to be a high-level document, you want your key stakeholders to be able to look at it for five seconds and know exactly how far along and how close to on-schedule the project is. The easiest way to do that is to list what percentage of an aspect is complete. This can easily be done with your project management software.
4. Present examples that benefit the customer.
Every stakeholder who is a customer wants to hear that the project is going better than expected. If it is, tell them. (You should also be honest if there are problems!)
Share how you are saving them time or money, or why an initiative will benefit them. We aren’t talking about gold plating here, but helping the customer feel good about where things are at. For every example you share, show them with data. You need to be able to prove you will continue to stay under budget and that the schedule will be on pace. Be careful to not give too many numbers, though. That can be overwhelming. Give the highlights. If your stakeholders want more data, they will ask.
5. Be prepared to answer objections.
Your stakeholders aren’t working on the project every day. They have other things they’re responsible for. Because of this, they will likely ask you some questions you won’t expect if you’re not prepared. They may even ask some questions that seem silly or unrelated to you. That’s okay. Take some time before each time you meet to think like a stakeholder and be prepared to use those data-driven conclusions for why you’re doing things the way you are.
Now, Get to Work!
Project roadmaps are often an underrated part of the project management process, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. When used as the big picture document it was intended to be, the roadmap becomes a powerful tool in your project management toolbox. After all, it’s the primary strategic document that aligns everyone to the project’s vision and objective.
Because it’s not bogged down with the nitty-gritty details of the project, the roadmap is the one place you, your team, and stakeholders can reference as the project rolls along. Having that overall vision in front of everyone will help keep the project within the scope, on track, and on budget.
Why not get started on your project’s roadmap today?