What Is IT Road Mapping?

IT road mapping is the sequencing of destinations via pathways that help allocate IT resources in an organization. Once complete, the IT roadmap acts as an overall picture of your IT’s journey through time.

Think of it this way: your IT roadmap is like a musical score. Your IT division is the orchestra with all their “instruments,” playing their own parts, but completing all sorts of compositions (projects) together. Each musician operates in complete synchronization, focusing on the timing and placement of the notes that are played.

Achieving that same harmonization between IT resources helps accomplish what the organization needs to accomplish. The musical score in IT is a roadmap that shows the motion of communication and coordination within one important dimension: timing.

Road mapping and timing

If you were to look at an IT roadmap, you’d notice that if just one aspect of that picture came in late or overdue, the rest of the plan is compromised. So everyone should understand the importance of a roadmap and respect the timeline. Yet, IT road mapping should also provide contextual information in addition to just the pure timing to ensure all stakeholders understand the significance of their part. An IT roadmap should contain these key elements:

  1. Timeframes
  2. Desired outcomes
  3. Prioritization of outcomes as they relate to strategy
  4. Context for various stakeholders
  5. Clarity on any dependencies or variables
  6. Investment (if appropriate)

In short, an IT roadmap will explain “how long,” “in what order,” “why in that order,” “what will happen,” “why it will happen,” “what the benefits will be if it happens,” “what could happen if something else happens,” and “who should know what about what happened.”

IT road mapping and IT strategic planning

Such an elaborate scheme is necessary to strategically plan IT in an increasingly complex and dynamic landscape. This is why portfolio management matters now more than ever. It segments specific aspects of IT – applications, projects, technologies, etc. – into “portfolios” for easy analysis and understanding.

More importantly, these portfolios depend on each other. As changes are planned or occur in a portfolio, other dependent portfolios need to be informed. Roadmaps express changes in the IT portfolio and help coordinate the change between interconnected portfolios. They are indispensable in large organizations with interdependent operational units.

(Find out more about IT portfolio management and how to get a quick start on your portfolio management practice)

IT road mapping and scenario planning

The common approach to planning – if “this” happens, then “that” will happen – makes up the building blocks of an IT roadmap simply because it will allow an organization to come up with alternative scenarios for reaching a goal.

Qualitative assessment determines the possibilities, leading to a formulated decision of what resources can go where and how long it will take to reach an outcome.

One broad use of road mapping for scenario planning is master planning. With a master plan, IT strategy planners can explore tactical options and ensure that flexibility in the enterprise architecture is accommodated. The master plan is a highly condensed representation of the strategic plan, and is an easy-to-comprehend, single point of reference, which means it is an excellent tool for discussion at decision boards. It is very suitable for planning rollouts of applications along organizational or business structures and to communicate such plans.

Find out more about master planning in this white paper.

Technology requirements for effective IT road mapping

Because of the massive scope of planning objects, a road mapping tool needs to be able to plan an entire dependency network detailing everything from lifecycles to specific roles.

An appropriate tool should be able to accomplish these tasks:

  • Time tagging any relevant objects
  • Monitoring and maintaining vendor tech lifecycles
  • Status of elements from planned to development to operational
  • Dependency tracking
  • Data quality analysis
  • Stakeholder-specific views

Probably most importantly, a road-mapping tool should have the ability to make roadmap maintenance a by-product of daily planning tasks. Roadmap maintenance should not be an individual exercise by one person in a deliberate act of creation and editing. IT road mapping isn‘t a process unto itself but rather the result of a specific process inherent to IT planning. For roadmap management to be effective and efficient, it needs to be embedded in established processes such as request for new technology, project approval, procurement, strategy operationalization or demand management.

In these processes (as in the roadmap), ownership and responsibility need to be clear. Ultimately, the organization will want to strive for automation of these day-to-day processes. Automated workflows can make roadmap creation, maintenance, and communication easier, more reliable and targeted in a complex environment. This should all be accommodated for in a road-mapping tool.

Measuring resources with IT road mapping

Road mapping helps an IT organization carefully calibrate the different IT projects and plans across a dispersed IT organization. This helps avoid conflicts that can cause project overruns and ultimately result in higher costs. Roadmaps are essential while consolidating IT landscapes. With an expertly built IT roadmap, a company can easily proliferate, consolidate, and regulate all sorts of applications with precise timing, archiving, and launching to keep the symphony going.

IT roadmap size

The beauty in the IT roadmap is that as complex as it can be, there is no one right way to create one. It’s all dependent on what you want to understand, what the goals are, and why you’re building that roadmap in the first place.

You could be interested in knowing what the milestones are. Maybe the budget currently matters the most. What about scope? Seeing what’s entailed, what’s involved, may be the biggest benefit of an IT roadmap.

Adjusting your IT roadmap

As a matter of fact, it can. With versatility and the right technology in place to manage all of it, an effective IT roadmap is truly configurable, capable of:

  • Better business collaboration
  • Collaboration inside the IT org
  • Cost mitigation
  • Consolidation
  • Agility
  • Or…. All the above!

However, three principles must remain constant with every purposeful,  actionable, and efficient IT roadmap:

1. Be consumer-centric - Whatever decision any business makes, the IT roadmap will always focus on the ultimate needs of the consumer, the customers IT will serve.

2. Be as simple as possible - Seems easier said than done, but overall, even with complex pathways, everyone’s ability to understand where those pathways lead to on a roadmap should be immensely clear. No unnecessary zig-zag lines, no distracting visuals either.

3. Interrelate other roadmaps as well - Most of the time, one IT roadmap won’t be enough to communicate everything you want to communicate. Some dependencies rely on something even more granular, such as application and technology lifecycles. Connect any or all subsequent roadmaps together, and your network of dependencies won’t simply communicate the needs of just one division in your organization. It will benefit all.

Best practices for designing and maintaining an IT roadmap

Here are some important tips to ensure your IT road mapping hits the mark every time:

  1. Use the same visuals throughout
  2. Centralize plans for a common reference point
  3. Train your users on how to navigate the roadmap
  4. Make your roadmaps mandatory for meetings

This ensures there are no misunderstandings about what your teams are seeing. This goes for anything even as simple as shapes and colors.

In addition to a centralized place for roadmap storage, a central repository of all your IT resources will make all the difference in building the roadmap in the first place. You can’t build it if you don’t know what you can build it with!

You, of course, should also set guidelines and rules for governance and modification of roadmaps when applicable. This ensures everyone agrees on how the IT landscape may evolve and when.

Blueprinting can contribute to streamlining the task and accurate development of IT roadmaps. A “blueprint” is essentially a skeletal form of any roadmap template you’d develop. This would save you time as you fill in all the necessary information, and who knows: you might find that a new plan to build a new manufacturing plant, for instance, might only require 20% of new specifications, leaving the rest to be copied directly from the master blueprint.

To ensure everyone will always be in the know on how IT will serve an entire organization, roadmaps must be briefed to all at least annually. Additionally, publish quarterly progress reports, including standard deliverables, budgets, current and future states.

The end goal for IT road mapping

On the surface, it may seem like a lot of overhead to create any IT roadmap – but the long-term benefits are clear and very much worth the effort:

  • Tremendous efficiency gains
  • Project management improvements
  • And substantial operational budget reductions

Now that you know everything about IT road mapping, it may be the time for you to expertly roadmap your IT landscape transformation plans, ensuring efficiency, effectiveness, and resiliency for your entire organization.

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