Making sure you start a project on the right foot is critical. Whether it’s a short-term campaign like planning for a virtual event or a long-term initiative like rolling out a new IT tool, communicating your high-level project overview and getting your stakeholders on the same page is a key element of launching a great project.
So: how do you do it? You might start by creating a project charter or business case to get approval for your project. Once you do, you could create a project plan to provide the key blueprints for your work. Then, you can schedule a project kickoff and brainstorming session with all relevant stakeholders. Depending on the project, you might even draft a creative brief. But while these strategies can be critical elements of a project launch, a project roadmap is the best way to visualize your project schedule and align on business goals.
A project roadmap is a high-level overview of your project deliverables, key milestones, and overall project goals. It should be the first thing you create when you get started on a project. With your project roadmap as a jumping-off point, you can create other important project planning documents, like a project plan and a project schedule.
If you’ve never used a project roadmap, it can be a little confusing to differentiate it from other project planning elements. Here’s how they differ:Map project timelines with Asana
Your project roadmap and your project plan have a lot in common. They should both be created at the beginning of a project, and they’re both living documents—rather than static, set-in-stone decrees. But unlike your project plan, your project roadmap should only focus on a high-level overview. Make sure you don’t get bogged down in too many specifics when you’re creating your project roadmap, since that would dilute the focus of the document. Remember: it is a bird’s eye view, not turn-by-turn directions.
To create a good project plan, you’ll want to dive into some of the details—like your project timeline, what your budget is, what each individual stakeholder’s roles are, and any success metrics you’ll be using to grade your project.Read: Create a better project plan in just 7 steps
A product roadmap is your product team’s vision for the features you plan to launch in a given time period. Your product roadmap is your team’s single source of truth for these launches. It’ll typically include nuanced details like the priority or scope of the launch, any product and engineering stakeholders that are involved, and the marketing bill of materials—just to name a few.
Despite the similarity in names, a project roadmap is a completely different ball game. Any project, not just a product launch project, can and should have a project roadmap. For example, you’d want to create a project roadmap for a virtual event your team is planning or an upcoming project your IT team is rolling out. In both cases, your project roadmap is the overview for your project goals and how you’re going to get there.Read: Bill of materials (BOM): A free template of streamline production
A Gantt chart is a visual representation of a project. It looks like a timeline, and uses a horizontal bar chart to represent tasks and deliverables. Oftentimes, teams choose to build their project roadmaps in timeline view Gantt charts, and they use the horizontal bar chart component within the Gantt chart to represent high-level initiatives over time.
However, Gantt charts have a lot of functionality outside of project roadmaps. Gantt charts make it easy to visualize the relationships and dependencies between tasks. They also provide at-a-glance insight into how the pieces of your project fit together, and any important milestones that are coming up.Read: New to Gantt charts? Start here
Even if you plan to build your project roadmap as a Gantt chart, make sure you’re choosing a tool that offers various ways to visualize work and the ability to easily switch between visualizations—not just as a timeline, but also as a Kanban board, to do list, and calendar. That way, not only will you be able to create an effective project roadmap, but your stakeholders will also be able to view the work in whatever view works best for them.
If you’ve never created a project roadmap before, you might be asking: Is this really necessary? And while every project doesn’t need a project roadmap (more on that later), if your work is time-bound, a project roadmap is the best way to communicate your high-level goals to your stakeholders. There are three main benefits to creating a project roadmap before your kickoff meeting.Map project timelines with Asana
The main purpose of a project roadmap is to set your project objectives before you schedule your kickoff meeting and create your project plan. Your roadmap should give you a sense of where you are and, ultimately, where you’re going. Even though it won’t have too many details about how you’re getting there, having your project objectives laid out this early on can help you gain clarity and hit your goals.
For example, imagine you’re creating a project roadmap for your social media content calendar. You know where you are—that’s how many followers you currently have, the engagement you’re getting from your audience—and your project roadmap helps you define where you want to be, and by when. Maybe you want to double your followers on Instagram in the next six months. Or maybe you want to 2X your engagement rate in the next year. Whatever your plan is, your project roadmap can help you and your stakeholders see the big picture.
As part of creating your project roadmap, you’re establishing what deliverables are important for this project. Having those deliverables established before you go into your kickoff meeting can help you know who to invite to your meeting, provide a better overview of the project to your stakeholders, and—ultimately—gain buy-in.
For example, let’s say you’re creating a project roadmap for a customer feedback tracking project. Your roadmap provides the overview, explaining how your customer feedback tracking process currently works, and how your project will improve it over the course of your roadmap. But your project roadmap also helps you clarify what project deliverables you expect to have by the end of it. Maybe you’re working to create a repository of all customer feedback that’s sortable and searchable. Or maybe you want at least 100 pieces of customer feedback by the end of the fiscal year. Having those clearly-defined deliverables is key.
Overview: check. Deliverables: check. Ultimately, you’re creating your project roadmap in order to share important information your stakeholders need to know, and gain buy-in on your deliverables, milestones, and project schedule. By having all of this information at your initial kickoff meeting, your project stakeholder can get a high-level view of your project scope and timeframe.
For example, imagine you created a project roadmap for a new marketing campaign. During the kickoff meeting, cross-functional stakeholders might have their own ideas for where they want the project to go and what deliverables they’re expecting. But instead of leading a brainstorming kickoff meeting, you’re providing a clear-cut plan of the important milestones and project goals. That way, you’re managing stakeholder expectations right from the start, and ensuring your project will be as successful as possible.Read: 7 common causes of scope creep, and how to avoid them
To build an effective project roadmap, you need a way to visualize your project timeline, deliverables, and schedule. These elements combine to form your project roadmap—a high-level overview that outlines what is happening, when it's happening, and what initiatives your project collaborators and stakeholders will be involved in.Read: Top 20 project management charts to visualize project progress
Here's an in-depth look at how to create a project roadmap:
Starting with your project schedule is key, as it sets the foundation for the entire roadmap. Begin by establishing the start and end dates of your project. This step involves plotting out the key project phases and making certain that you have a realistic timeline for all your project milestones and deliverables.
Consider using a Gantt chart or a similar roadmapping tool to represent this timeline clearly. This visual representation helps in identifying any potential scheduling conflicts and ensures every team member understands the project's timeline.
It's essential to identify the deliverables your project will produce.
Deliverables are tangible outcomes or products that will be produced as a result of the project.
Milestones, on the other hand, are significant checkpoints or events throughout the project's lifecycle.
This step requires you to list all expected deliverables and identify the critical milestones, including any specific due dates. To guarantee understanding and agreement between the stakeholders and the project team, it's important to be as detailed as possible.
Task dependencies are tasks the team needs to complete before another task can start. This step involves identifying and documenting the dependencies between tasks.
To schedule work logically and guarantee that prerequisite tasks are finished before dependent tasks start, it’s essential to understand these dependencies. This clarity helps prevent bottlenecks and optimize the workflow across the project timeline.
Acknowledging potential risks and blockers early in the project planning process is vital for successful project completion. This step involves identifying any factors that could potentially delay or derail the project and developing contingency plans for those risks.
It’s about being proactive rather than reactive to challenges that may arise. Consider conducting a risk assessment session with your project team to brainstorm potential risks and their mitigation strategies.Read: What is project risk management? 6 steps to boost success
Sharing your project roadmap with key stakeholders is the final step to get their buy-in and support. This involves presenting the roadmap to stakeholders and explaining the key elements, such as the project schedule, deliverables, milestones, dependencies, and risks.
It’s an opportunity to gather feedback, make necessary adjustments, and ensure everyone involved has a clear understanding of the project's vision and objectives. Engaging stakeholders early and often helps align expectations and secure the necessary resources and support for the project.
The best way to create and share your project roadmap is with a work management tool like Asana. With Asana, your stakeholders have a central source of truth and a bird’s-eye view of the entire project, not just of your roadmap. By sharing a central source of truth, your team will be best equipped to plan, manage, and execute on tasks.
There’s no one way to create a project roadmap—you should structure your roadmap in the best way to visualize your work. But here are two examples to help you get started.
This project roadmap captures multiple “swimlanes”—in this case, the IT department is planning three big initiatives in Q4, each with a distinct overview and goals. But because members of the IT department will be working across all three of these initiatives, it can be helpful to see the roadmap in one central place. This way, the entire IT team has a central source of truth for all three of their upcoming initiatives.
Creating a project roadmap can often feel like navigating through uncharted waters, especially when the team's efficiency and productivity are at stake. A common challenge many teams face when developing roadmaps for projects is the tendency to become overly complex or detached from the project's real-world constraints and goals. This disconnect leads to confusion, missed deadlines, and unmet expectations.
To bridge the gap between roadmap planning and execution, here are actionable tips to align your roadmap with team objectives.
It’s essential to have a clear idea of your project goals before beginning the roadmap creation process. This understanding ensures that your project roadmap serves as a guide to align every task and milestone with overarching strategic goals.Read: Project goals vs. objectives
Example: Consider a software development team working on a new application. Using an Agile methodology, the project roadmap should outline key milestones, such as the completion of the design phase, beta testing, and the official launch. Additionally, the roadmap should directly link each milestone to the project's objective of delivering a user-friendly and functional application within the set timeline. This granular view helps in managing the project's lifecycle more effectively.
Involving your project team in roadmap planning is key to creating a project roadmap that is realistic and achievable. This collaborative approach ensures buy-in from all team members and key stakeholders and leverages their insights and expertise.
Example: Imagine a marketing team planning a product launch. By including team members from design, content, and social media departments in roadmap development, the project manager can ensure it reflects a comprehensive strategy that incorporates the strengths and timelines of each department.
While it's important to have a detailed project roadmap, flexibility is essential to accommodate unforeseen changes, roadblocks, or challenges. In order to prevent unforeseen changes from derailing the project, your roadmap should be adaptable enough to allow for adjustments. This includes effectively managing the task backlog by regularly reviewing and prioritizing tasks, as well as adapting the project's baseline—its planned scope, timelines, and costs—to accommodate necessary updates.
Example: Consider a construction project faced with unexpected supply chain issues. A flexible project roadmap would include buffer times and alternative paths to keep project progress on track, despite these unforeseen hurdles. Proper resource allocation and workflow management make certain that the right personnel, tools, and budget are in place for each project phase to prevent bottlenecks and ensure successful project completion.
A project roadmap is not a set-it-and-forget-it tool; it requires regular reviews and updates to reflect the project's current status and any changes in objectives or external factors.
Example: Take a long-term IT infrastructure overhaul. As the project progresses, new technologies or better solutions may emerge. Regularly reviewing the roadmap allows the project manager to incorporate these advancements and make certain the project remains at the cutting edge and is executed as efficiently as possible.
Project management software can dramatically streamline the process of creating and maintaining a project roadmap. These platforms offer a centralized location to track progress, manage tasks, and facilitate communication among team members and key stakeholders.Read: 11 best project management tools and software
Example: An Agile project team working on a large-scale digital transformation might use project management software to integrate their roadmap with time tracking, resource management, and communication tools. These integrations with a roadmap tool provide a comprehensive view of project progress, so leaders can identify bottlenecks early and adjust in real time.
Not every project needs a project roadmap. For example, if your project has a small scope—for example, a blog tracking calendar for the next month, or a low priority bug fixing initiative—it might be overkill to create a project roadmap. In that case, it’s still beneficial to check in with project stakeholders regularly, and you should still aim to have your project information in a central source of truth. But don’t force a project roadmap where it isn’t necessary.Read: What is the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle?
With an effective project roadmap, you can give your team a sense of where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and who’s coming on the journey with you. Your project roadmap is the beginning of the rest of your project planning, and creating a strong roadmap is a great way to begin a healthy project.
Are you ready to build your first project roadmap? Try Asana, a leader in work management, and the best tool for your team.Map project timelines with Asana