What is a Project Roadmap? Definition, How-to, and Templates

Updated Aug 3, 2022.
Project-Roadmap

One reason project managers tend to easily get distracted by the details and lose track of the project goal(s) is due to the many important components involved in projects. You need to effectively communicate your goals and key milestones in the project to all parties involved.

But how do you quickly pass across the projects’ goals, allocated resources, risks, and deliverables to stakeholders? Out of the different project planning documentation such as the project charter, the project roadmap is a key visual tool that can help project managers explain projects to stakeholders.

In this guide, you will learn how to create well-thought-out roadmaps for multiple projects to connect all pieces of the project management puzzle.

Let’s get started.

What is a Project Roadmap?

A project roadmap serves as a visual representation of a project’s goals, milestones, deliverables, and risks spread out on a timeline. You can view a roadmap as a simple visual timeline that presents fewer details than a project plan and focuses on communicating only important elements of the project strategy to relevant stakeholders.

During project execution, the project management roadmap also serves as a reference tool.  Successful project managers use this visual tool to keep everyone on track with the same goals, risks, and deliverables, among others agreed upon, all the way through the project.

This highly visual document is a communication tool that shows every team member and other stakeholders what is expected from them as well as the project.

The project manager is responsible for establishing this project management tool and the level of detail contained in it depends on who its intended user or audience is. Roadmaps for senior executives, for instance, have fewer details than those intended to be used by your development team.

Project Roadmap Infographic
Source: Roadmunk

How Can a Project Roadmap Help Project Managers and the Project Team?

From its more apparent use as a communication tool to its use as a means for ensuring accountability among your team members, a project management roadmap offers you great help.

1. Present Information to Project Stakeholders

A project roadmap constantly keeps key stakeholders informed about important information on project expectations. High-level details are communicated to the development team and kept open to them throughout the project management lifecycle, while executives and the project manager always have a means of monitoring the project’s progress.

2. Helps Measure Project Progress

Through proper management of the roadmap, up-to-date information on work done by the development team member is available to senior stakeholders. They easily track progress and know the right decisions to take at the right time.

3. Helps You Know How and What to Prioritize

Project roadmaps show how elements of the project are prioritized. This means proper implementation of the roadmap ensures that focus is placed on achieving the most important outcomes first.

Goals are aligned and deadlines are met. Everyone concentrates on the same deliverables, milestones, and risks, and eventually achieves the same objectives without any conflict.

4. Ensures Effective Coordination of the Project

Work on the project is well-coordinated as everyone has a central reference point guiding their work. The existence of multiple project roadmaps with different uses and for different personnel means everyone has access to only project details that matter.

This makes them highly actionable compared to general documents like project plans with overwhelming details or that may be hard for some individuals to read.

5. Ensures Effective Communication

Overall, project or product roadmaps help you achieve efficient communication of and visibility into project goals, deliverables, milestones, and risks, as well as coordination and alignment of team members and work towards taking care of these.

Key Elements of a Project Roadmap

Although a roadmap in project management shares certain key components with other project documents, it is not a tool intended to replace other documents like the project charter or project plan.

Elements within a roadmap are kept as subtly detailed as possible. They are intended to provide all key stakeholders, including senior executives, and the development team, with a general bird’s eye view of the project’s objectives and development to take note of and work towards.

So what are these elements?

1. Scheduled Timeline

A project roadmap is a high-level timeline of the project. This timeline is scheduled, with dates and deadlines identified for individual projects.

With this, the first noticeable element of a roadmap is its existence as a project schedule. You do not include a lot of details but only important points for deliverables within the timeline. Using Gantt charts helps make the roadmap more visual.

Project Timeline Template
Source: Vertex42

2. Milestones

Project milestones are the strategic goals to be met during the project’s development lifecycle. They are merged with dates and deadlines for them to be met within the roadmap timeline. Including key milestones within a project roadmap is extremely important as it is only with these that the team members know what they are working towards.

Project Milestone Template
Source: Smartsheet

3. Deliverables and Dependencies

Project roadmaps contain deliverables on which your development team works. Depending on the type of roadmap, they are also merged with dates acting as deadlines for their production. These deliverables are also linked with each other.

A connection is made on how one affects another and team members know where priorities lie in delivering each one of them.

4. General Resource Allocation

Unlike the project plan (a project planning tool), details on resource or portfolio management contained in a roadmap are less detailed. Resource allocation relates to resources laid down for the general project rather than for different tasks or project phases. Within the project roadmap, you display allocated resources estimated to fulfill the needs of the overall project till its completion.

5. Risks

Your project roadmap is expected to contain risks to be avoided in the development of the project as well as when these risks are to be expected (if this can be identified).

6. Contacts

Although not a very common element of a roadmap, contacts prove very useful when you deal with other teams. You include points of contact to these individuals so your team members have access to them in case of any need for communication.

How to Create a Project Roadmap

No matter what visual project management software you use to see the big picture of your projects, there are particular steps worth taking to ensure that every element and important aspect of it is covered.

1. Identify Overall Project Objectives

The project roadmap exists to guide the project team in their work on the project. How does it achieve its aim and how do team members know they are on the right track when the goals of the project are not defined? The first step in creating a roadmap is defining the project goals and objectives.

You identify the project’s goals and how they align with overall company goals, as well as the overall project scope and its audience. Defining the project goals and objectives helps you break down the project into smaller bits and identify other major elements of the project roadmap.

For instance, you easily know the milestones to measure progress on the project, important deliverables for the project to advance, and common risks and issues in attaining these goals. In identifying your project objectives, however, you want to make sure that they are measurable.

2. Establish KPIs

This is where measurable project goals are important. KPIs are tools or mediums through which work on the project is assessed in comparison to defined goals. They are metrics that represent the project’s status and you use them to quantify work on the project.

The existence of KPIs helps make roadmaps actionable for project managers. They mainly use it to monitor the progress of work on the project and make appropriate adjustments to the roadmap when necessary.

3. Define the Project Timeline

Set up a timeline within which these goals are attainable. Here, you want to consider the estimated length of the project as well as the important dates and milestones to be placed on the timeline.

Using a project calendar makes this easier to pull off. Take your identified milestones and place them on certain dates. Create your timeline with only these dates included at certain points within it. While doing this, you take note of milestones that are dependent on each other.

4. Create a Prototype Project Roadmap

With a mock-up roadmap, you want to test whether the objectives, deliverables, milestones, and risks give a complete high-level view of the project. You also want to test your KPIs and the arrangement of elements on the timeline so that they seamlessly and effectively work.

5. Create Actual Roadmap

After optimizing the prototype roadmap and determining the best structure and most relevant elements, create your original project roadmap.

The details included in this roadmap depend on the audience of the project roadmap and you want to make sure they are appropriate. For instance, details in roadmaps for senior executives are typically less than details included in roadmaps used by the development team. Using a Gantt chart makes it more visually appealing to the intended audience.

6. Review with Stakeholders

Senior executives and every other stakeholder making use of the project roadmap are brought into the mix, with these individuals indicating whether the roadmap serves its purpose with them.

Typically, this stage is for review by the project sponsors, since members of the project team are already engaged with the roadmap. Reviewing internal and external stakeholders is the final step before the approval and implementation of the project roadmap begins. This stage helps manage stakeholder expectations.

7. Maintain Continuous Monitoring and Optimizations

The project roadmap is not a rigid visualization that remains the same throughout the project lifecycle. This remains flexible and susceptible to changes where these changes are necessary within the project development process.

After work begins on the project and while the roadmap is implemented, the project manager ensures that necessary changes are represented within it. He or she makes sure that all details included in existing roadmaps are up to date.

Maintaining continuous monitoring and optimizations is important to always keep all team members and other stakeholders aligned with important elements of the project and ensure expectations and outcomes are not in conflict with each other.

Project Roadmap Example

Here are a few roadmap templates showing the details contained in them and who makes use of them.

1. General Project Roadmap

General Project Roadmap Timeline Example
Source: Smartsheet

This is what a typical project roadmap looks like. You have a complete view of the project timeline, deliverables expected from the team, and the time they are expected. With this, every individual within your team always knows what is to be worked on at a particular time and where deadlines exist.

2. Project Activities Roadmap

Here is a more detailed project roadmap presented in a Gantt chart view, giving deeper information on the tasks and deliverables expected from team members.

As expected, this is a roadmap intended to be used by your development team and it lets them know where priorities lie in producing these deliverables and completing tasks on the project. This roadmap shows parts of the project that are completed, tasks that are in progress, and deliverables on which work is yet to start.

3. Project Initiative Roadmap

Project Initiative Roadmap Example
Source: Aha

A project initiative roadmap shows details about initiatives for improvements on project management processes. This Gantt chart example shows a high-level overview of the project objectives on improvements and the associated deliverables in achieving them. Deadlines are not well defined, however, everyone has an idea of when each deliverable is expected.

Tips for Producing a Project Roadmap

1. Using Project Roadmap Tools

In creating and managing your project roadmap, you want to make use of project management software. These are usually project management tools that offer dedicated options for creating roadmaps.

Project management software is preferred because they allow you to create and modify your project roadmaps with relative ease. Some offer you templates to easily and quickly visualize your roadmaps, and you also have access to updated data from your project management activities through real-time, up-to-date reporting.

2. Creating The Roadmap Before The Project Plan

A project roadmap helps you lay down a framework for the project plan. With a project roadmap already in place, you know all important aspects of the project, create a high-level view of them, and then create a visual plan that goes into more detail.

This is especially useful considering a project roadmap covers virtually every part of your project, including portfolio management and even risks within the project. From there, you see that creating a project roadmap first makes the activities involved in creating the product roadmap less tedious.

3. Ensuring the Roadmap Is Always Up To Date

You want your project roadmap to serve all its purpose in your project development journey; communication, coordination, and alignment. Having your product roadmap not represent the current state of your project strategy does not help you achieve this.

Whether you make use of project management software or not, you want to ensure that every change to your project timeline and strategy is appropriately represented on the roadmap as quickly as possible. This ensures everyone has the right information to work with and everyone’s work on the project is coordinated and aimed towards the same outcome.

Using project management software makes this a whole lot easier to maintain.

4. Including Contacts In Project Roadmaps

Key contacts are not elements you see in every project roadmap, nonetheless, they prove important for your project communication.

Within your project roadmap, although internal stakeholders are important, you want to especially include contact information of external stakeholders and contractors relevant to the project. You create a means for communication so your team members easily reach out to them in case they have any inquiries.

5. Including Only Relevant Information

Details included in your product roadmaps need to be very precise and comprehensive for their intended audience. Some are only intended to present a strategic overview of the project timeline, so you do not want to overwhelm your senior executives.

Others, like the activities roadmap, are intended to present the development team with details of each deliverable and milestone, so you want them to have all the data they need. The bottom line is that you ensure you don’t go overboard or underwhelm your project roadmap audience with details contained in it.

Some other tips that help you include making use of a project roadmap, instead of a more detailed plan, to kick off your project. This way, you do not waste time getting everyone on the same page with important project elements. You also want to ensure the goals included in it are achievable within the proposed timeline to avoid unnecessary delays and enjoy better resource management.

Anastasia Belyh

Editor at FounderJar

Anastasia has been a professional blogger and researcher since 2014. She loves to perform in-depth software reviews to help software buyers make informed decisions when choosing project management software, CRM tools, website builders, and everything around growing a startup business.

Anastasia worked in management consulting and tech startups, so she has lots of experience in helping professionals choosing the right business software.