I always enjoy planning a road trip with my family. Once we decide on a destination, we pull out a roadmap (which is often Google Earth these days), and we start to discuss the trip. We enthusiastically explore how we’re going to get there. We talk about things like how much time we’ll need, where we want to rest along the way, what we should bring with us for the trip (food, entertainment, etc.), and what other sights are worth stopping to see before we reach the end. That discussion, both initially and over the next few days, eventually results in our vacation plan.
Imagine how much we’ll enjoy that trip because of those discussions, compared to the alternate scenario of simply getting in the car and heading for the destination. The latter approach will quickly devolve into a nightmare of arguments (“When are we stopping?” “I’m hungry!” “I’m bored.” “Aren’t we there yet?!”) all based on different expectations and conflicting assumptions. Even a short discussion to cover some of the major aspects of the trip is worth its weight in gold as it will alleviate some of the stress of a long trip in a confined vehicle.
Roadmapping is the business process encompassing those activities required to produce a picture of how a company will achieve certain future goals, or reach a certain future state, starting from today’s reality. A roadmap can have any useful level of scope: a business, a product line, an architecture, etc. Roadmapping begins with agreement on a destination, and includes an iterative process of discussing and documenting how to get there from here, and what else may happen along the way. The object of the roadmap exists in both a context and in time, as does the context; the roadmap should include information about how the context will evolve as well as the object itself.
Here’s the most amazing part of roadmapping: Just like when planning a vacation, the discussions about the roadmap are actually more important than the roadmap itself. It is during these discussions that each stakeholder will articulate (both directly and indirectly) what their assumptions are about the present and future environment. Some of these assumptions will be easily validated, others will be easily invalidated. Some will not be able to be verified at the current time. These are the key points to document, track, and understand how they affect the rest of the roadmap. Getting these assumptions out in the open will help align expectations and create common understanding.
Beacause there will always be assumptions, the roadmap and, therefore, the discussions about the roadmap should be revisited on a set timeframe. Some companies do this quarterly, some semi-annually, some annually. It needs to make sense according to how quickly your products, your environment, or your assumptions about either change.
The process of roadmapping is not a science. It is a social activity to make assumptions about the future explicit, to reach a shared understanding of the possible future, and thereby to make better decisions today regarding how to make the desired future a reality. Even if a roadmap is not fully developed, the time spent discussing it is time well spent.