The Marketing Roadmap vs. the Program Plan

marketing roadmap vs program plan

The product roadmap vs. the release plan. I recently wrote about this topic for product managers — detailing how you need the first to set the product direction and then build releases to detail the work. But when I saw some marketing managers commenting on the post, it got me thinking. What is the equivalent for marketing teams?

I would argue it is similar. A marketing roadmap sets the overall direction — while the program plan details the work that needs to get done.

For many marketing teams, it used to be that a “roadmap” used as an everyday tool was not that common. But more and more marketing teams are seeing the benefit of a real roadmap — one that connects work to strategy and visualizes how the team will help drive the growth of the business.

Your marketing roadmap shows the major initiatives (or themes of work) that the team will work on over the next six months to a year. That work is contained in your program plans — a term that is quite familiar to marketing. Depending on how your company is structured, you might organize these plans around specific programs, campaigns, or projects. Some teams organize plans by customer segment or how they work internally, breaking items out by vertical or function.

In the simplest of terms, the marketing roadmap shows the high-level strategy — the program plan shows the details for accomplishing that strategy. The marketing roadmap is foundational and the program plans are more tactical, but both are essential. Here is what you need to know about each:

Purpose
Marketing roadmaps capture and communicate strategic marketing plans. They visualize the activities that need to happen to accomplish the business objectives. Seeing this clear view — how the work ties to the strategy — helps the team focus on the work that will make the greatest impact for the business.

Program plans detail the activities that need to happen to accomplish the goals — specifically what is happening, when it is happening, and who is responsible. You can think of these plans as the “containers” for all the work you will do. The work could range from large efforts like the launch of a new advertising campaign to smaller ones like a collection of needed website updates.

Components
Marketing roadmaps often include the following components:

  • Time frames
  • Goals
  • Initiatives
  • Channels
  • Programs that deliver on the goals
  • Activities
  • Statuses

Program plans often include the following components:

  • Activities
  • Phases
  • Milestones
  • Dependencies
  • Channels
  • Dates
  • Statuses

Audience
Marketing roadmaps are typically presented internally to marketing and cross-functional teams such as product, sales, and design to keep everyone on track towards the goals. But you can also tailor different roadmap views for external stakeholders like advisory boards to show a high-level view of the strategy and the plans for driving the business growth.

Program plans are mostly for the internal marketing team to track the details of the work along with any dependencies. Since marketing works closely with and supports other teams (for example, product, sales, and design), it is helpful for these cross-functional contributors to have visibility into the plans as well.

Timeline
Marketing roadmaps can visualize any amount of time from the next few months to the next year ahead. Some teams might create a roadmap at the beginning of each fiscal year, while others may build it out incrementally throughout the year. Either way, it tends to not be updated as often as the program plans are, since it should represent a broad view.

Program plans lay out a shorter timeline, which will vary depending on the complexity of the work. One constant is that every plan is extremely time-driven in order to keep the team on track. This is the case whether it is a major launch with a specific go-to-market date or ongoing work like weekly blog posts or monthly display ad updates. The idea is to break the work into manageable, time-based programs — bringing more organization to the team.  

The benefits of working with marketing roadmaps and program plans are clear — which is why more and more teams use both.

Adopt these in your own marketing work and I can bet you will see a difference as well. Not only will your work have more purpose, but it will be better organized and have more structure. You will know exactly where you want to go and the steps you will need to take to get there.

How do you use marketing roadmaps and program plans in your work?

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About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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