Heading up a new project, but not sure where to begin?
To make any project successful, a business organization needs a structured plan. But, making a hefty business plan can waste countless hours of valuable time. Enter, the operations, or business project, roadmap.
What is an operations roadmap? How can an organization create an effective one?
This guide will help any organization build the right roadmap. With the right roadmap, total operational success is inevitable.
What Does an Operational Roadmap Do?
An operational roadmap, or business project roadmap, is a statement of long-term intent. It is a detailed, but streamlined, plan that helps organizations achieve project goals. It can highlight any potential steps or pitfalls associated with those goals.
Having an operations roadmap is pivotal to project success. Roadmaps ensure that everyone in a team or organization is working toward a single goal. This helps keep business operations focused, organized, and profitable across any number of teams.
Operational roadmaps help structure selected and prioritized initiatives. This helps focus and align each team member’s vision toward a single goal. It is flexible, streamlined, and meant to weather any possible storms.
There are several things every good roadmap has in common. These include:
They are Strategic
An operations roadmap is not a bulky document. They are lean and streamlined. Purposeful intention is key to building a business project roadmap.
It is important to remember that roadmaps are statements of intent. This means they are not storage space for wayward ideas. They are also not task-management vehicles, with detailed day-to-day steps.
A good operational roadmap will stay focused on high-level steps and goals. This helps make them flexible and focused.
They Account for Change
Some organizations are wary of operational roadmaps. They fear they will waste valuable time on a document that will become useless when situations change. However, this is a misguided fear.
A good operational roadmap can handle unforeseen changes. In fact, the actual design of operations roadmaps sees change as inevitable. A well-constructed roadmap can actually save time, rather than waste it.
This is because even as things change, the ultimate vision of a project should remain the same. The focus on high-level steps and priorities means that operational roadmaps are flexible. So, even as changes arise, they can help a team remain focused on the ultimate goal.
They Keep Everyone Aligned
One of the key benefits of a business project roadmap is that they keep everyone on a team aligned to the same goals. They even work across different departments, thanks to their cross-functionality.
They remain focused on high-level visions and goals. They are not bogged down by complicated day-to-day operations. They do not contain jumbled professional jargon.
This means anyone, at any skill level can understand them. Even someone from outside the organization should have the ability to understand them. They’re that simple.
Who Can Use an Operations Roadmap?
Anyone can use an operational roadmap. They are excellent for any level or size of a team or organization. But, there are several types of people who may find operational roadmaps particularly helpful.
For entrepreneurs, roadmaps are critical. Entrepreneurs may find themselves drowning in a million ideas or responsibilities. Roadmaps can help simplify goals and projects to help keep any entrepreneur organized.
Along with the organizational benefits, operations roadmaps can be crucial for business growth. They help align new team members or investors to established goals. This makes the entrepreneur’s vision each to understand.
Having well-thought-out project roadmaps also makes an entrepreneur’s vision more profitable. Investors will be able to see the long-term future. This lets them know the entrepreneur is ready and prepared for profitable success.
Business owners need to stay organized to achieve their long-term goals. Long-term goals are key to business growth. Having project roadmaps helps small business owners stay focused on these long-term goals.
Small business owners generally find themselves working with small teams. An operational roadmap helps align this team with the owner’s desired direction. Roadmaps can lay down high-level goals, making them more clear for everyone.
Roadmaps are especially useful for small businesses. This is because they outline the essential steps required to move forward. This helps structure the owner’s vision and reign in any wayward ambition.
Operations roadmaps help business owners plan ahead. This means they can also help predict any future risks. When the business structure is easily visible, so are any potential pitfalls.
For example, maybe the roadmap might signify that major technological upgrades will soon be required to meet business goals. Now, the owner can make these upgrades or hire a new partner who can help before it is too late. This saves small businesses from stagnation and backsliding.
Not to mention, staying well organized can save valuable time and money. When running a small business, time and money are crucial.
For an established business, it is essential that business managers use project roadmaps. A roadmap will help managers align everyone on their team. This will lead to more efficient operations on any project.
Managers are in a unique position. They are able to see what’s happening on the front lines, while also having access to the C-Suite. This means they’ll need a way to recognize key business needs and opportunities.
Using a roadmap will help managers and their teams organize how to reach their goals. It can also point out when teams will need extra funding or resources to achieve success. A structured roadmap can make it easier to convince executives to provide these resources.
Operations roadmaps boil down any team’s big ideas into key steps. This keeps the team and the executives focused on the benefits of a plan. That takes away the fear of any potential implementation difficulties.
Operational Roadmaps vs. Business Plans
Business plans have always been an essential part of any organization. But businesses are becoming faster and more agile. They need planning documents that reflect that.
Operational roadmaps have become increasingly popular in today’s fast-paced market. But what are the key differences?
Business plans explain the commercial potential of a project in extreme detail. They are usually structured like an essay. They include detailed sections that explain what the business is going to do, how they’re going to do it, and what the risks and opportunities are.
Usually, business plans will include plenty of facts and figures. This could mean the projected cash flow or other financial predictions.
Advantages of a Business Plan
The extreme detail of a business plan comes with several advantages. For example, they prove to investors that an organization has done its research. It signifies that a team knows how to make a project financially viable.
They are also useful for keeping everyone aligned. The general direction of the project or company is front-and-center. This keeps everyone on the same page.
In some cases, a business plan might be a requirement. This is true if a team is seeking a business loan or a government grant.
Finally, Professor Andrew Burke from the Cranfield School of Management proved their effectiveness. In one study, he found that a good business plan can help a company grown up to 30% faster than businesses that fail to plan. That is major!
The Problem with Business Plans
Though they come with many advantages, business plans still have their pitfalls. Most obviously, business plans are bulky documents. They also take time to put together.
Business plans require in-depth research. They are lengthy documents that could take hours or days to put together. Referring back to a business plan during the actual project can be a time-consuming process, as well.
All in all, business plans take away an organization’s time and resources. These resources could be better spent actually growing your company. It takes time away from actually talking to customers, building your product, or getting market feedback.
Operational roadmaps are a much more recent invention. They’re more streamlined than a business plan. They’re often organized on a single page by using color-coding and other visual cues.
Long-term goals are the focus of any operational roadmap. They aren’t as detailed as a business plan. Instead, they outline the high-level steps needed for success.
Advantages of Operational Roadmaps
Because they are such lean documents, operational roadmaps save time. It is relatively quick and easy to make a roadmap. This is because they focus on only the highest priorities.
It is easy to consistently review the document thanks to its streamlined nature. This allows everyone to regularly check if they are on track.
Perhaps most importantly, they can weather any change. It is easy to modify a roadmap when the project or opportunity shifts. This is ideal for any market.
Thanks to their visual language, it is easy to remain focused on the big picture. It is also easy to spot any potential obstacles early on. Again, this saves valuable time and money.
The Problem with Operational Roadmaps
There aren’t many issues with operational roadmaps. They don’t take up much of your time, and they keep your team organized.
But, it is usually critical to have both a business plan and an operational roadmap. This is especially true for larger projects or higher-level long-term goals. Usually, the two documents go hand in hand to support success.
In any case, both a roadmap and a detailed plan are key factors of profitable growth. It can also be a useful practice to create multiple project roadmaps to support a larger business plan. This leads to even greater project organization and team alignment.
Do I Need an Operation Roadmap?
The short answer is yes. Operations roadmaps are crucial in this day and age. As business practices and technologies become more developed, so does the need for more efficient planning.
Operational roadmaps help simplify increasingly complicated processes. Having a flawed strategy, or worse no strategy at all can be a death sentence. Without a strategy, an organization might waste countless resources.
Building an effective roadmap does take time and money. But, any resources spent will come back to the organization five-fold. This is because a good roadmap points out ineffective business practices and wasted efforts that can cost an organization.
There are several more detailed reasons why it is imperative to have an operational roadmap. These include:
Simplifies Project Review Processes
At current, project review processes can be lengthy, wasting valuable time and money. Roadmaps are much leaner. This means they present the same information in less time.
Operational roadmaps take minutes, not hours, to create and update. This makes it much easier to keep everyone on task and in-line. It also makes it easier to account for any changes that arise.
Project roadmaps operate on a “manage by exception” approach. This means that only the most crucial issues need to be addressed during roadmap updates. No more slogging through the complicated minutia of minor details.
A unique visual language organizes each operations roadmap. Organizations develop and customize these languages to best fit their teams. This cleans up communications by allowing everyone in a company to speak the same language.
Certain roadmap software can even integrate existing work into this new language. This allows direct data imports to current management systems. Now, there is no need for time-consuming presentations and PowerPoints over simple tasks.
Impresses Your Stakeholders
Roadmaps present information in a simple, visually effective way. This makes plans easy to understand and easy to follow. When stakeholders see this, it is easy for them to know what they should be doing and by when.
Again, this eliminates the need for time-consuming presentations. But, it does not sacrifice the quality or effectiveness of the work these teams do. This builds trust in your teams, both to the team members themselves and to investors or executives.
Bonus Benefits of an Operations Roadmap
Having a roadmap is crucial. But there are several other bonus benefits associated with constructing an effective project roadmap.
To start off, operations roadmaps keep leadership and their teams on the same page. They are also useful for facilitating discussions around resources and team needs. A roadmap easily visualizes where additional resources are needed and clearly outlines the benefits of procuring these resources.
Additionally, roadmaps help predict potential pitfalls awaiting a team. Operations roadmaps can visualize the future need for infrastructure improvements or staffing additions that could arise. This helps teams plan ahead and keep an eye on the future.
Operational roadmaps are also beneficial for leaders and executives. They help leaders understand what is currently being worked on. This helps them know what deliverables to expect and when.
Knowing where team members stand on the workflow also ensures leaders aren’t asking too much of their team at one time. This enables them to be strategic when asking for deliverables.
All in all, project roadmaps clean up any operational issues that arise in a team. They save time and money by eliminating unnecessary or inefficient operations practices and technologies. This ensures teams are implementing the right practices to meet their actual needs.
Any weaknesses present in a team’s workflow will be pointed out by an effective roadmap. They help to sort out priorities. That’s key to saving organizations valuable time and money.
What to Know Before Roadmapping
After understanding just how crucial a roadmap is, the next step is to actually build one. Before beginning, though, it is important to understand a few key things about an organization.
Knowing these will help keep the roadmap free from informational gaps. Here are some things an organization should outline before beginning their project roadmap:
It is important to know how an organization is currently running. This helps create an outline of processes that work. It also helps highlight which ones might be a waste of time or effort.
By understanding a team’s current or past processes, they can prepare for the future. Humans learn from history, and that is no different in business organizations.
Before planning begins, it is important to take inventory of the current tech stack. A team should have a good understanding of what technology is available to them.
Documentation of available technology allows teams to plan around what they already have. This also makes it easier to highlight what new technologies are necessary. This makes the use of technology more efficient and saves organizations money.
Effectiveness of the Business
It is imperative to understand the level at which an organization currently operates. This includes current revenue, projected revenue, and revenue goals. Again, this is something a team will want to build their plan around.
It is also key to understand where there are gaps in the team’s business knowledge. Operational gaps are also important to note. Then, address these gaps in the project roadmap.
After highlighting these gaps, it is important to rank them in order of importance. Involving the whole team in prioritization can lead to brainstorms for how to tackle these gaps. Again, simplify these brainstorms and address them in the roadmap.
How to Define Your Destination
Operations roadmaps are designed to help organizations reach specific destinations. Therefore, it is important to know exactly what that destination is.
The biggest mistake organizations make is not being clear about their objective. Without a clearly defined destination, a roadmap is useless.
No clear destination leads to inconsistent operation efforts. This can cause teams to flounder. It leaves them with no clear sight of the main goal.
It is important for everyone on the team to agree on the ultimate destination. This ensures a complete understanding of the goal. It also aligns the team and further motivates them.
It is a useful practice to have a planning session with a specific focus on setting a destination. Make sure everyone on the team understands the chosen destination. When a team aligns its goals, it is also easier to align the steps needed to reach them.
How to Define Your Goals
Being prepared before beginning your roadmap is imperative. Teams need to employ strategic thought during each phase of the planning process. This strategic brainstorming is as valuable as the roadmap itself.
Teams need to be able to think in both the long and short-term. This helps create processes for achieving both. These processes then help structure the operational roadmap.
Defining Your Long-Term Goals
The first thing a team needs to understand is its long-term goals. What is the purpose of the project? What is the team trying to achieve?
It is key to understand what the desired impact of the project is. If an activity doesn’t help to achieve this impact, it does not belong on an operational roadmap.
Long-term goals can be associate with several business areas. These include:
This is the simplest goal to explain, but often the hardest to achieve. An example of a revenue goal might be, “Our team wants to increase profits by X percent in X amount of time.”
Growth is associated with the number of resources available. The goal of a project could be to expand the size of an organization’s teams. Or the organization could hope to add new technologies or other resources.
Service and Reputation
These types of goals build better business practices. This type of goal could include projects that provide customers with better service. This would lead to higher customer retention for the company.
Businesses are becoming increasingly involved in social issues. An example of this type of goal could be a project associated with going green. This allows companies the opportunity to give back to society in some way.
Defining Your Short-Term Goals
Just as long-term goals are important for an effective roadmap, teams also need to identify their short-term goals. Short-term goals define ideal milestones in a roadmap. These are smaller destinations that help to achieve a larger goal.
The best short-term goals are SMART.
- Specific – Targeted and highly detailed
- Measurable – Proven by a continually measured metric
- Action-Oriented – Outlined with concrete actions and when to take them
- Realistic – Challenging but achievable
- Time-Specific – Include hard deadlines
Each short-term goal should support the long-term goal. If it doesn’t directly help a team to achieve the ultimate goal, it should not be included in the roadmap.
Involve the Whole Team
The entire team needs to be motivated to achieve both long and short-term goals. A good way to ensure this is to involve everyone in the goal-setting process. Leadership should actively listen to and value each team member’s feedback.
It is a proven fact that team members are more likely to stay motivated when they have a personal stake in the process. Aligning the project goals with the team’s personal goals will help keep them on-track.
How to Make an Operation Roadmap
After defining the goals, the team is ready to begin its roadmap. There are some key steps the team needs to identify before beginning. This will help the team stay organized as they construct their roadmap.
First, review the set goals. Brainstorm some major steps that could help the team achieve them. This is a good time to involve the entire team.
Next, identify which major steps from the brainstorm to include. Then, annotate each of them with a brief high-level description. This will ensure a simple understanding of each step.
After annotating, prioritize the steps, placing them in the necessary order. Then, consider whether the team has the necessary resources to complete them. Make sure the team can defend why the steps should be taken in this order.
Finally, critique the outline. Is it realistic for the team’s bandwidth? If things change, are these steps adaptable?
Creating a Visual Language
The team has defined its goals. Their steps are in order. Now it is time to create a visual language.
Having a unified visual language is a key step in ensuring the entire team is on the same page. It simplifies communications. This makes operations easier to review and follow.
It is important to customize visual languages for each specific organization. There is a fine line between too much and not enough information in a roadmap’s visuals. Each individual organization will have to draw this line themselves.
Color coding, brain maps, and step timelines are all examples of visual cues a team could use. What is important is that everyone agrees with the cues established. This ensures each team member understands them.
A visual language is considered a success when anyone inside or outside the organization is able to understand it. It is the job of the visual language to clearly outline the major activities inside the roadmap. So, the language should be simple, but effective.
Constructing the Roadmap
Now that the team has agreed upon the goals, steps, and visual language it is time to compile it together. As the team builds its operational roadmap, it is imperative to keep these agreed-upon items in mind.
While building, note the appropriate time frame of the project. It is also important to remind the team of key project data, such as important tasks and milestones. Keeping both in mind will help the team prioritize and structure the roadmap.
Include the agreed-upon visual cues in the roadmap. These should show project phases, roles, or departments. Remember, these cues are used to keep things organized, so keep it simple.
There are three questions any roadmap should be able to answer. These are:
- What are we trying to achieve?
- Where are we now?
- What steps can we take to reach our goals?
Building a project roadmap might be complicated at first. This is especially true if a team has never used one before. After a while, though, it will become second nature.
The Roadmap Checklist
The following roadmap checklist can make the complicated process a bit simpler. Any team new to making roadmaps should refer back to it as they build. This will ensure they are accounting for each necessary step.
The Central Vision
At the center of any operational roadmap is a clear vision. A mission statement crafted by the entire team will guide the roadmap’s strategy. The input of team members is critical here.
Include all involved teams or team members in the project planning process. This will keep them motivated throughout the project’s development.
- Is the roadmap centered around achieving a clear vision or goal?
- Do you have the support of stakeholders?
- Can you ensure stakeholder support throughout the project?
A Measurable Goal
After the team has agreed upon a vision, put in place measurable metrics. The main goal needs to be measurable. This will ensure the team can prove their success.
It is important for teams to have full transparency in reporting these metrics. This goes for team leaders, as well as team members. Keep the roadmap, and the metrics associated with it, easily accessible.
- Is the roadmap easily accessible to every team member?
- Have you decided on a key measurement metric?
- Do you have set intervals for checking metrics?
- Is there a team or team member responsible for regularly checking the measurement metric?
Scope and Steps
After defining the fundamental goal, define subgoals that will help to achieve the main vision. These should include deadlines that support the ultimate project timeline. It is helpful to keep these subgoals centered around major milestones or events.
Once the major events are defined, come up with steps that will help you achieve these milestones. Each milestone should require no more than 3 or 4 smaller steps. Keep these at a high-level, so they’re flexible and easy to understand.
Milestones should then be prioritized in order of importance. It is important the reason for this prioritization can be explained and defended.
- Are goals centered around major themes or events?
- Does each milestone have a clearly defined deadline?
- What will success look like for each milestone?
- Does each milestone have clearly defined steps to success?
- Are items prioritized, and can you explain this ranking?
Funding and Resources
Identifying the appropriate funding and resources necessary is imperative. Then, make sure that the team is able to secure the necessary resources.
In this step, it is also imperative to assign work items to particular teams or team members. This will ensure the team has accounted for every step. It will also help identify when more team members may be necessary.
- Have you funded and secured the required resources?
- Has each item in the workflow been assigned to a team member?
- Do you have enough team members for operational success?
The entire team should help create and approve the planned workflow. Once everyone is on the same page, it is important to regularly keep an eye on your progress.
It is not uncommon for situations to change in the middle of a project. Often, a team will have to course-correct multiple times throughout project completion. The roadmap should reflect these changes.
Setting aside time to regularly review and update the roadmap is key. Check-in with the team often to highlight any potential upcoming pitfalls of the plan. Then, readjust the plan and note any changes.
Keeping a regular eye on things can ensure the project flows smoothly. Regularly updating your roadmap will ensure the team’s productivity doesn’t get snagged by last-minute blocks.
- Do you have set times for reviewing and updating the roadmap?
- Are changes congruent with the available resources?
- Are you consulting the entire team about the plan’s progress?
- Has someone been assigned to regularly update the roadmap?
Use Tools to Help You
The internet is full of tools that can help in the construction of an effective roadmap. From templates to software, there are plenty of options to fit any team. Some examples of software to seek out include:
- Office Timeline Pro
- And many more…
Of course, teams can always make their own operational roadmap. This is sometimes a good practice for teams that desire total customization. Creating a totally unique template might be the better choice for certain organizations.
What Makes a Roadmap Effective?
After constructing a roadmap, it is important to make sure it is actually effective. Teams should monitor the effectiveness of the project roadmap throughout the project timeline. It is possible a roadmap that is effective at the beginning of a project, will be useless by the end.
An effective roadmap will make sure teams are meeting key performance indicators (KPIs) efficiently. This means each step is cost-effective and timely.
It is also important that roadmaps are realistic. This means each step is achievable with the available resources. If they’re not, there needs to be a pathway to either gain access to these resources or change the plan.
In a streamlined operational roadmap, do not show every individual action. Teams need to be certain they remain focused on high-level steps and goals. Remember, this is a flexible document, so don’t get wrapped up in the minutia.
Making day-to-day decisions in a vacuum will only lead to operational failure. That is the exact opposite of what an efficient roadmap should do. Do not waste valuable time and money brainstorming for every minor problem that could arise.
The purpose of operations roadmaps is to outline the larger, more critical tasks. These will align the team to the larger vision. Focusing on only the most important tasks keeps everyone motivated to reach high-level goals.
Effective roadmaps are also refreshed regularly. Depending on the length of the project, consult and update operational roadmaps at regular intervals.
However, don’t worry about refreshing the operational roadmap too often. This could, again, be a waste of valuable time and effort. Create a planned review timeline and stick to it.
How Often Should We Consult the Roadmap?
To help keep the operational roadmap effective, it needs to be checked often. This could mean setting a time every couple of weeks to review the document. Then, the team can make any necessary changes.
Regular roadmap checks ensure that the team’s priorities haven’t changed. It certifies that every team member is still headed toward the same long-term goal. It also keeps operations flowing toward achieving that particular goal.
It is also imperative to update the roadmap at regular intervals. This accounts for any priority changes that do arise. It also ensures any new information is accounted for.
Using the Roadmap Effectively
Roadmaps are meant to help teams stay on track. They do not replace business plans. Instead, use them in conjunction with the business plan to keep team members focused on the high-level vision and goals.
The design of a roadmap leaves them open for change. Use them to reshuffle priorities as needed. If teams are not updating their roadmaps to reflect the changes that arise, then they are not getting the full functionality out of their roadmap.
Operations roadmaps are highly visual documents. This helps to make communication amongst all stakeholders easier. Do not bog down your roadmap with too much information.
Keep the visuals neat and clean. Focus on high-level goals and critical tasks. Include valid data to back up all strategic decision making.
Operational roadmaps need to be lean, clear and highly organized. If they don’t meet those criteria, the roadmap needs to be simplified. Keeping the roadmap simple will also keep it effective.
Operational Roadmaps are Critical
In the modern business world, having an operations roadmap at the ready is crucial. You need to enable your business to remain focused on your long-term goals. This will ensure everyone across your organization is on the same page.
A business roadmap can set you up for success.