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How to Create a Technology Roadmap

October 25, 2022

11 minute read

Technology roadmaps, often the responsibility of the CTO or the VP of engineering, are imperative when planning a company’s technology strategy or IT project. 

Like a product roadmap, it helps businesses to think about how technology fits with their company and product goals. Having a roadmap is an immediate way of conveying tech strategy to customers and stakeholders.  

But how do you go about creating a technology roadmap? And how can you maximize the benefits that having one delivers?

In this article we’ll explain:

  • What a technology roadmap is
  • Why you should create a technology roadmap
  • The benefits of a technology roadmap
  • The technology roadmap process
  • A useful template and example to work from

What is a technology roadmap?

A technology roadmap is a visual tool that describes a company’s technology strategy. You might call it an IT roadmap, a software engineering roadmap, an architecture roadmap, or similar. Whatever its name, it describes the technical infrastructure, why you’re working on it, and what the benefits of this work will be.

Why create a technology roadmap?

Any technology change needs a roadmap because of the profound impact it might have on a business. A change in one area might open up problems or a need for change somewhere else.

For example, the business is self-hosting some tools and wants to stop maintaining servers and move them to the cloud. During the move, there needs to be minimal disruption to the tools, users, and data they access and produce. That requires careful planning. A technology roadmap, as a visual representation of this strategy, helps IT staff, to fully consider the implications and impact.

the content of a technology roadmap to some extent depends on the type of organization creating it. A supermarket’s technology roadmap, for example, will be different from ProdPad’s technology roadmap. 

Let’s think about why this is. At ProdPad, the technology is effectively the business – it’s embedded in our product and can’t be separated from the product. Our technology roadmap is hugely influenced by our product strategy and how we expect the product to develop. 

By contrast, a grocery store sells groceries and other consumer goods. It likely has a fair number of technology roadmaps designed to manage innovation in different parts of the business. There will be technology roadmaps for its checkout systems, ERP systems, CRM systems, and so on. 

For a company where technology helps them deliver their services like a grocery store chain – it is imperative to have a strategic technology roadmap in place. Because of the many spinning parts that could be affected in different areas of the business that might not talk to each other.  

What are the benefits of a technology roadmap?

The benefit of a technology roadmap is that it makes you think strategically about what you’re doing.

It shows stakeholders the current tech solutions and how they align with company and product goals. Technology moves fast and can be a significant cost to the business. A technology roadmap helps you to move in the right direction and invest sensibly. This boosts transparency across the business enabling other departments to see where the money is being spent.

It makes you consider whether planned initiatives will help the business’ technology strategy. It may even be that you decide that a planned initiative doesn’t deliver on the technology strategy. Leading you to re-evaluate whether the current strategy is in fact driving toward the business and product goals. 

Process and planning are pivotal

In a previous life, I spent some time in the Australian Army. During my training, I was taught that planning was vital, but that the content of the plan was less important. This is because the plan itself can always change. The planning process – what you need to do, achieve, and what to do if things go wrong – is what’s crucial.

This same ethos applies to a roadmap, whatever sort of roadmap it is. The roadmap planning process means that when things do go wrong, you already know how to fix them.

A technology roadmap keeps the team on track during implementation and keeps scope creep in check. We all know of technology and infrastructure projects that went wrong. Their scope expanded exponentially, went way over time or budget, was canceled, or never delivered on their initial objectives. 

Communication is key

Shared with the business, customers, stakeholders, and investors, your roadmap is a powerful marketing tool to communicate the business vision. We’ve all seen huge interest generated whenever a big tech business like Apple or Google talks about its product roadmaps. 

Transparency pays – research shows that customers are likely to be more loyal and pay more for guaranteed total transparency. (How Transparency In Business Leads to Customer Growth and Loyalty).

Microsoft even makes a point of publishing technology roadmaps for all its products. Here, for example, is the current Microsoft 365 roadmap. This gives customers and third-party developers the opportunity to plan projects, schedule migrations, and plan purchases with confidence. 

What is a technology roadmap process?

In my experience, most businesses use a timeline-based Gantt chart to show their technology roadmap. Then they try to work out if it fits with their product strategy. This is a project management-type release plan, not a roadmap. This is a mistake – you start too close to the end and don’t give yourself room to deliver your strategy.

Far better to start by asking what technology does for the business. Starting here you’ll be clear about whether the technology strategy supports the business and product strategy effectively.

Like a product roadmap, you break a technology roadmap up into smaller initiatives that are understandable and manageable. A big infrastructure project, that takes two or three years, is only manageable if broken down into smaller chunks. 

Its intended audience is important. Senior stakeholders will probably want only a high-level overview. They don’t need the same level of detail as a tech team, but they will want to know the project’s benefits. 

Now we’ve talked about the what and the why when it comes to a technology roadmap let’s focus on the how. I’ve created a simple and easy framework to follow to ensure you develop a technology roadmap that keeps strategy at the front and center. 

Let’s dive in.

How to create a technology roadmap

This list is completely straightforward and easy to follow. However, as we’re over-achievers when it comes to adding value, so we’ve also created an example technology roadmap in our sandbox and we’ll use it as an example below.

PRO TIP: Practice makes perfect – test your ideas in a pre-made technology roadmap
Explore the ProdPad sandbox now

1. Pinpoint strategic objectives

Start with the what and the why. What are the strategic objectives? Why do we need to make these changes? For our example roadmap I’ve selected three common objectives a technology roadmap needs to have:

  1. Secure the company systems
  2. Improve IT processes
  3. Support compliance requirements

How did I get these three objectives? I started with an end goal, which was keeping the company up-to-date and secure with a streamlined process.

Clearly articulate how the technology needs to be changed. This should be easy for everyone to understand and to see how it supports the business and product strategy.

PRO TIP: Linked objectives to your roadmap make sure your initiatives never stray from the task at hand and it’s something you can do in a roadmapping tool.

Objectives and key results are tracked on the roadmap. 🤩

Now that you’ve got your objectives you can break the work down further into manageable initiatives. 

2. Set out the new system’s capabilities 

This is where the goal of the task is fully articulated. Set out the capabilities that will now be accessible to you and your team by adding new functionality, systems, or tools.

Setting out the full capabilities means that you fully explore the benefits and pitfalls. It will give you a 360 view of what you are bringing in and what else might need to be added to your roadmap.

3. Determine needs and priorities

This is pretty obvious, right? Some things need to be done right away, some things need to be done before something else can be done and some things can be done at some point. And it’s your job to work out the order of those things.

So really look at what problems you are trying to solve, and set initiatives that will get you moving towards your objectives.

Let’s again look at our roadmap example and the initiatives that are attached to the objective to secure the company systems. It’s a pretty straightforward objective but there are loads of ways to achieve this, but without initiatives and processes in place, you could end up with a scatter-gun plan that leaves you with even more processes to unpick.

So we’ve set an initiative in the Now column called “Implement SSO in SaaS tools”. From there your team can identify all the SaaS tools in use within the company, ensure that they set the process for all of those tools, and ensure there is complete adoption of SSO across the board. 

You’ll also see that in the Next column we’ve also added  “Implement SSO in internal tools”, the logical next step after a successful roll-out of SSO within all the SaaS tools. 

This ensures that your team continually identifies new areas that need to be optimized with a methodical and strategic approach to analysis.

4. Measure the cost

You don’t just need to think about the cost of buying a license or software fees, there’s also the cost of people’s time and the cost of not doing it. This includes risk factors and other complicating factors.

Sometimes it’s more expensive in the long run not to do something.

5. Decide on timelines

Once you’ve got everything in place it’s time to map out the release plan, when you’ll be giving status updates, and how long certain things are going to take. A lot of the time deadlines will be arbitrary and possibly unneeded. You and your team know how much you can do in a sprint, having a deadline on an entire initiative can be counterproductive and lead to long conversations with stakeholders if you go over time.

PRO TIP: Keep dates off your roadmap as often as possible. Only include them if there is a need for a deadline, like making security updates before a new iOS is released.

6. Assign responsibilities 

Lots of people are involved in the successful delivery of your plan, so you need to ensure they’re all adequately prepared and understand their roles and responsibilities within the delivery of the work.

7. Keep revisiting these points. 

Most importantly, don’t forget to allow your technology roadmap to evolve. Technology moves fast. Today’s groundbreaking piece of kit can quickly become yesterday’s thing, so accept that some of your assumptions might be invalid by the time you get to them. Those up-to-date routers you planned to put in for that company-wide zero-trust initiative may well have been superseded by something else by the time you come to install them.  

PRO TIP: Lean roadmaps make it easy to be responsive – you’re not locked into delivery dates, you’re instead focused on solving problems.

An Example of a Technology Roadmap

An example of a technology roadmap.

We’ve created a working example of a technology roadmap within our sandbox, it’s live and ready for you to explore. You can explore adding objectives, ideas, and feedback and see how your technology roadmap could work. 

Once you feel like you’ve got the idea, why not start a trial and start to share your technology roadmap with your stakeholders? Now-Next-Later is such a simple template to follow but it’s the most powerful way to ensure your technology strategy is delivered effectively.

And finally

A technology roadmap can be a really valuable tool to plan, visualize and manage a technology change. It gives stakeholders a clear view of the benefits of any change and gives the teams involved a clear view of their objectives and resources. It should always help you to think strategically about the changes being made and whether they benefit the business’ strategic and product goals.

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