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Roadmap: definition, tools, examples

Product Roadmap

1. Getting Started with Roadmaps

Strategic planning is an essential part of managing projects or activities of any kind, and it's especially important in implementing your business vision. A simple visual like a roadmap provides a clear overview of your strategic tasks and milestones and helps you define a long-term plan for reaching your goals.

We've put together some resources to make it easier for you to create and manage your project or product roadmap. Here, you'll find all you need to know, from roadmap meaning to useful examples, friendly tools and free roadmap templates so you don't have to build them yourself. Let's get started!

2. What is a Roadmap?

Simply put, a roadmap is a strategic planning technique that places a project's goals and major deliverables (tasks, milestones) on a timeline, all grouped in a single visual representation or a graphic. You should always remember that a roadmap planner differs from a regular project plan in that it doesn't contain all the details of a project; instead, it's a high level, easy-to-understand, strategic tool.

A visual roadmap is extremely useful in high-level meetings with clients and executives because it helps you communicate with stakeholders, present your business strategy, and discuss major steps needed to implement it and move the project forward.

The structure of a roadmap may vary from one project to another, but as a minimum, there are some key elements you should include in all your roadmaps. Check them out:

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Roadmap key elements >

3. Roadmap Examples and Free Roadmap Templates

Roadmaps are a flexible format for presenting strategic information, so there's no industry standard we should follow. Each strategic initiative - from Marketing to, HR, Operations or IT - can adopt a different approach, but over time we've seen that most professionals use a roadmap creator to build one of these popular types of roadmaps below.

To help you save time, for each example we've built free templates in Excel and PowerPoint (using the Office Timeline Pro add-in) so you can get started right away.

Product Roadmap

Product Roadmap

A summary view that presents, at a high level, the vision behind your product strategy or offering.
Project Roadmap

Project Roadmap

A general overview of your project that's used for stakeholder buy-in and communication.
Technology Roadmap

Technology Roadmap

A visual representation that helps you make strategic decisions regarding your technology investments.
IT Roadmap

IT Roadmap

A bird's eye view that outlines how your organization uses IT systems to achieve its business goals.
Strategic Roadmap, Business Roadmap

Strategy Roadmap (Business Roadmap)

A more general plan that presents the overall vision for your business strategy.

There are many ways you can use these roadmap examples to make better decisions around your strategic initiatives. Explore the roadmap templates page to discover which one fits you best, then download and customize them as you like. If you want to see other free templates we've created for you, check out our timeline templates and our Gantt chart templates.

4. How to Choose the Best Roadmap Software or Tool

With so much at stake when it comes to creating your roadmap, it's no wonder that deciding which roadmap tool to use proves to be such a challenging task. To make it easier for you to choose a roadmap software, here are some crucial aspects to take into account when you look at the many products available on the market today.

Top 5 things to consider when reviewing a roadmap tool:

  • Time-saving. Does the roadmap app make it easy for you to create and update your project visual? You may have very little time to prepare your presentation for an important meeting with a client or a manager. That's why you need an agile roadmap maker that helps you automate your work with just a few clicks.

  • Customization. Each project is different, so is it a good idea to use the same colors and shapes for all of them? Certainly not. Go with an agile roadmap software that allows you to customize every detail: colors, shapes, fonts, date formats, etc. and lets you style your roadmap to make it unique and distinctive.

  • User-friendly. Most work is collaborative nowadays and you're always in close contact with a client or team. Therefore, you'll need a roadmap tool that works the way your clients and colleagues do, and the resulting roadmaps are easy to view, edit, download or share by anyone, with their usual office tools.

  • Integrations. If you use popular project tools like MS Project or Wrike, you'll want to choose a roadmap creator that integrates smoothly with your usual project management software so you can build roadmaps straight from your data. A Refresh function that helps you update your roadmap every time there are changes in your documentation may be very useful, too.

  • Visuals. We can't stress this enough: you need simple, clear visuals that your audience can understand. So, choose a software that makes roadmaps that have the right blend of professionalism and beauty to help you stand out and impress your clients or managers.

Need more guidance in choosing a roadmap tool? Check out our dedicated section on roadmap tools.

Frequently Asked Questions about Roadmaps

What is a roadmap?

A roadmap is the high-level, visual representation of the lifecycle of a business initiative, complete with the end goal, steps to take and milestones to reach along the way. The roadmap is primarily used for the strategic planning of projects and the development of new products.

What is a project roadmap?

A project roadmap is a strategic overview of a company-wide operation. It can define the scope, deliverables, high-level scheduling, milestones, challenges and risk factors. Project roadmaps are slightly less detail-oriented than project timelines. The primary concern is respecting the original deadlines and adjusting deliverables to meet them, when required.

What does a roadmap include?

A typical project roadmap should cover the following elements:

  • Long- and short-term objectives;
  • Tasks, milestones and dependencies;
  • Resources required and their allocation strategy;
  • Timeline of the project’s lifecycle;
  • Risk factors and challenges.

Why is a roadmap important?

Roadmaps allow all involved parties to evaluate the competitiveness of a strategy, raise issues and reveal gaps, correctly prioritize resource allocation and set realistic targets based on market data. They provide the framework for interdepartmental collaboration. Without roadmaps, every venture is a journey into the unknown and the risk of project failure grows higher.

How do you create a roadmap?

Starting off with a specialized roadmap maker application like Office Timeline can save you hours of work, allowing you to focus on the project specifics rather than graphic design. Here are the basic steps for creating a roadmap:

  1. Define the timeline and project phases;
  2. List the tasks, milestones and dependencies;
  3. Break down the workstream using logical containers like swimlanes;
  4. Keep updating the roadmap with new developments.

Roadmaps made easy

Office Timeline helps you quickly turn complex project data into clear PowerPoint roadmaps that are easy to follow, but hard to forget.