Roadmaps are beautiful. Not just because they are aesthetically pleasing, but because of what they represent. Roadmaps clearly show what you want to achieve and how you will get there. You can create excitement for a big idea and package it in a way that others can understand. But a roadmap is still just a visualization. You need to have a vision and strategy behind the plan.
Vision, strategy, and roadmapping — you need to deeply understand the purpose of each in order to build something lasting. You will find all three are clearly defined on successful product and project teams.
Let’s start with a simple analogy. Think of a skyscraper. Vision is the initial thought about what kind of place it will be and why it will matter. Strategy is the blueprint for the foundation and framing. The roadmap builds upon the blueprint with a detailed plan for erecting a fully-functioning structure.
In other words, vision is your view of the future. Strategy explains the approach you will take to realize that future state. And a roadmap is the more tactical plan for what you will do to get there (and when you will arrive), informed by the vision and strategy.
Now, some people use the words “vision” and “strategy” interchangeably. And many people put together detailed plans that are not grounded in a vision—they include an assortment of tasks without any real strategy behind the work. The problem with this approach is that it is easy to lose focus of why you are doing specific work in the first place.
But no matter where you work or how your organization approaches strategic planning, it is important to have a firm grasp on what each term is and what it is not. This will help you do what you do best — whether your work is building products, managing projects, launching campaigns, or providing stellar services to customers. Here is a helpful way to think about vision, strategy, and roadmapping:
Vision is about the future and a hopefully better world. It is the essence of what you hope to achieve and forms the beginning of your strategy. For example, our vision at Aha! is simple — we aspire for a world of lovable software built by happy teams.
Vision is not a statement that you define once and then forget about. It should be revisited at least once a year. And it should not be overly complex or difficult to parse — everyone in the company needs to know and deeply understand it.
Strategy defines the direction you will take to achieve your vision. Strategy aligns the entire organization around what you want to accomplish and serves as a guide for how to turn the vision into reality. It lays out your goals and the key initiatives to be successful.
Strategy is not the tactical work you will do. But it is not in the background either — it informs every decision you make about which activities to invest in. Strategy is cross-functional for major efforts. Every team needs to understand how their work is related and do their part to achieve the key objectives.
A roadmap is a visualization of your strategic plan. It captures activities you will complete within a given time frame. It communicates upcoming work in one view. You can use a roadmap to drive conversations. It can be your guide for prioritizing work, allocating resources, and tracking dependencies.
A roadmap is not static. You can make adjustments as plans change, show progress as you complete work, and create tailored views for different audiences. A roadmap should excite. It is a visual guide that defines the work that is required for the team to be its best.
Vision, strategy, and roadmaps build upon one another — you need all three to create winning plans and realize your goals.
Maybe you are working at an organization where there is no clarity around vision and strategy, or you belong to a team that does not yet use roadmaps as planning tools. Start by doing what you can. Define a vision and strategy for the projects you are responsible for and create roadmaps that show the upcoming work. Share these visuals with your teammates and manager.
Before long, I bet the people around you will take notice. And maybe they will even start championing roadmaps to the rest of the organization — a beautiful thing, indeed.
How do you see the relationship between vision, strategy, and a roadmap?