By Barton Kaplan
Roadmaps 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, 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 Once out of date, roadmaps quickly lose their usefulness and become shelfware.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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
 Corporate Executive Board (CEB) Whitepaper : Six IT Roadmaps for Better Business Outcomes, 2013