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4 Ways to Build Better Roadmaps

By Barton Kaplan

BART K-filterRoadmaps are uniquely leverageable tools for IT leaders. They can be used to drive consensus among stakeholders, bridge strategic and operating plans, and provide a framework for multiyear investment decisions.

But the current state of practice leaves a lot to be desired. According to a recent poll from best practices firm CEB[1], 70 percent of IT professionals are either ‘somewhat’ or ‘highly dissatisfied’ with their roadmaps; only 3 percent are highly satisfied.

In my engagements with IT organizations, I typically encounter one of the following root causes:

  • Relevance: Roadmapping can easily become more of an academic exercise, with no tangible connection to the outcomes business partners care about.
  • Accuracy: A lot of effort usually goes into the creation of a roadmap, but much less to its ongoing maintenance. Once out of date, roadmaps quickly lose their usefulness and become shelfware.
  • Actionability: Although they contain valuable information, many roadmaps aren’t being used to inform IT investment decisions. They often use technical language and are poorly visualized, causing them to confuse rather than educate decision makers.

But getting roadmapping right can make a big difference. At one utility organization I worked with, unplanned IT spend fell from 30 percent of the total IT budget to 13 percent as a result of the improvements made to its roadmaps. And at a large pharmaceutical company, roadmaps helped it rationalize its applications portfolio by 20 percent over two years.

So what are these organizations doing differently than your average practitioners? In my experience, they have adopted the following four tactics:

  1. Expand the use of capability roadmaps. Capability roadmaps align IT spending to business objectives by identifying the technologies needed to enable specific business capabilities. Capabilities are accessible to business partners but also stable and detailed enough for IT to effectively plan around.
  2. Make the creation and maintenance of roadmaps more efficient. Leading organizations focus on resolving underlying data quality issues to improve roadmapping process efficiency. Poor data quality undermines roadmap credibility and requires time-consuming validation steps. Exemplars set data quality standards that have to be met before roadmaps are created.
  3. Measure and monitor roadmap usability. Progressive organizations establish standards for content completeness and visual quality. These two dimensions, which are relatively easy to measure and monitor, most influence end-user perceptions.
  4. Integrate roadmaps into strategic and annual-planning processes. Roadmaps are only as powerful as the decisions they inform. If not incorporated into the appropriate planning processes, their impact will be limited.


Barton Kaplan is a business solution strategist with VMware Accelerate Advisory Services and is based in Maryland.

[1] Corporate Executive Board (CEB) Whitepaper : Six IT Roadmaps for Better Business Outcomes, 2013


One thought on “4 Ways to Build Better Roadmaps

  1. Barbara DeLoureiro

    Completely agree with the 4 tactics outlined above, but would add a 5th tactic that we used heavily in EMC’s IT organization, “Communicate, communicate, communicate”. IT roadmaps definitely need to be positioned from a capabilities perspective, or else you risk not engaging your business constituents to buy-in to the strategic IT direction, and along with that, the funding required to execute against it. As IT Professionals, we’re not always great about communicating these great plans and roadmaps that we so painstakingly create. In my experience, using these roadmaps in key conversations with internal and external constituents can really change the dialogue, and ultimately the brand of your IT organization. From a business counterpart standpoint, if they see that IT has recognized the business capabilities required to make their business unit successful, it helps to change the conversation from one of an order-taker, to a business partnership conversation about how BOTH orgs, the business unit and IT, can work together to achieve the overall business goals of the company. With internal IT employees, heavily communicating a visible IT roadmap is a way to engage your IT employees and get them excited for where the organization is going. Lastly, especially for a tech company, communicating the IT roadmap with customers and external stakeholders builds credibility that the company is a thought leader and investing in the relevant technologies that will continue to make it competitive in the future.

    Bottom line, the more you communicate your IT Roadmap with all your constituents, the easier it will be to have the conversations around strategic priorities, business alignment, and investments. After all, those are the pieces that take the most time, the delivery is the easy part for IT Professionals.

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