How to Create a Project Roadmap: Template & Examples
One of the first questions clients often ask is: When will the project be done?
This question used to cause me instant panic and sweat. I’d be stressed because sales wanted to start in days, team members were dodging my Slacks, and my plate was so full I barely had time to prepare for the initial “meet-and-greet” client hand-off.
Once it became clear this was going to keep happening, I needed a way to get ahead of the client’s question. After all, they were just as overwhelmed and nervous as I was and had stakeholders of their own to answer to. It only seemed fair to give them something.
That’s where a project roadmap can come in.
A project roadmap enables you to set broad expectations for your client in this initial squishy phase without overcommitting your team to promises you may (or may not) be able to keep. It can also serve as a useful tool for communication throughout the project.
What is a project roadmap?
A project roadmap is a visual presentation of what will happen over the lifespan of a project at a high level.
This document shouldn’t outline every granular deliverable or decision point on your project timeline. Instead, a good roadmap provides a bird’s-eye view that shows:
- When you expect the project to start and end
- Key phases in the middle
- Who is doing the work and when
- Major deliverables
- How the different phases overlap or bump into each other
- Any major breaks (such as vacations and holidays)
When creating a project roadmap, be sure to take the unique needs of every project into account. Instead of simply cutting and pasting a template from client to client, consider what’s needed to execute on the project’s specific strategic goals and required outcomes. It’s the why, what, and when for this project.
Note: If you continue to use this document throughout the project, it will need to change as your discovery phases occur and the strategic plan evolves.
Why is a project roadmap important?
One of the biggest values a project roadmap brings is an easy way to communicate timing. An initial view of date ranges allows your client to set expectations with their stakeholders, releasing the pressure to have answers ready. It also instills immediate confidence that you’re here to lead them.
Here are a few other benefits a roadmap provides, depending on how you plan to use it throughout the project.
Gain alignment and buy-in
This might be the first time your client reviews and approves a document with you. The project roadmap gives you an opportunity to share your understanding and confirm that you and the client are on the same page.
Of course, if you aren’t, you’ll need to make adjustments. This is a critical step that allows clients and stakeholders to buy into your process.
It’s also important to align on how the document should be used, what it tells you (and what it doesn’t), how it may evolve over the course of the project, and why it would change.
Set a guide post for goal tracking
Did we mention projects change? It’s going to happen. While the team is deep in the weeds working on task-level details, you need an easy way to confirm you’re not getting off track.
A project roadmap is a document you can refer back to at any point to ensure you stay on course. It can also act as the source of truth around work prioritization.
Provide clear visibility and accountability
As a high-level document, a project roadmap can provide the perfect visibility for additional stakeholders who don’t need (or want) to be in the weeds. These are likely your clients' bosses and their bosses’ bosses.
Roadmaps provide a clear way to communicate where milestones have been hit and if you’re on track to execute on their strategic goals. That means a project roadmap also enables clients to hold you and your team accountable—and that’s a good thing. Accountability should go both ways.
Assist clients with stakeholder planning
A big challenge many clients initially face is identifying key stakeholders and their project role. They’ve got to figure out who needs to attend what meetings, who has to approve what, when someone should create content or review documents, and more—all while understanding how much time it will take and when it needs to happen.
Your client has likely been stressing about this long before your team came into the picture. While the roadmap won’t answer all their questions, it can be a great first step in helping them start to rough out work and assignments.
Jump-start the project
Developing a project roadmap allows you, as the project manager, to get your head in the game by forcing you to understand the client, their project objectives, and any outcomes you must accomplish. It’s your job to create a plan that makes all of this possible, so be sure you understand what you’re working towards and why.
A project roadmap can also be a good gut check on current commitments. Did sales accurately estimate hours for each phase? Do you have the right people to fill each role? Is the deadline realistic? If anything is off, now’s the time to realign team and client expectations.
How is a project roadmap different from a project plan?
A project roadmap is essentially a strategic high-level view of the project plan. Think of it as a light, visual version any stakeholder can quickly scan to see the project’s strategic initiatives, major project phases, and how everything connects.
A project plan, on the other hand, goes into the day-to-day details of tasks, deadlines, resources, responsibilities, and more. It may only be used internally or shared externally with key stakeholders on the client side.
The project roadmap should be created before your project plan but will likely remain a living and breathing document alongside it. That way, you can continue to keep your larger group of stakeholders informed about project status.
Elements to include in your project roadmap
The details you include in your project roadmap will depend on how you plan to use the document and what you pair it with. You can either pair your roadmap with a project charter or project brief that outlines these additional details or embed your roadmap in a slide deck you’ll present to the client.
In general though, these key elements can help you communicate where you are today and where you’re going.
Strategic vision and goals
Be sure to include the strategic vision and goals as part of your project roadmap—even if it also appears on your project charter or brief. The strategic vision should explain:
- The project’s desired outcome
- Why the client is doing this work right now
- How it supports their business goals
It’s okay for this information to evolve with the project (especially once you get through research and discovery). The key is simply to start with something everyone agrees to.
Key phases and milestones
Every stakeholder wants a sense of when things will happen and how the project will unfold over time. The tricky part is painting the big picture without fully committing to it. You need to set some stakes in the squishy ground but may need to adjust where you finally put up the tent.
Here are elements you’ll want to include:
- Project kick-off (when you plan to get this project started with the client)
- Key project phases
- Milestones you plan to meet and deliverables associated with them
- Launch and/or project completion date
- Flex/buffer time in case things go off track
- Dependencies (how phases connect to other phases)
The roadmap should list the different team members who will be doing the work. You also might show equipment or materials needed (for example, when you need to purchase user testing software and pay users for the testing).
Threats and risks
Be sure to include anything that could throw a wrench in the project work or timeline. This is your chance to raise both the red and yellow flags so everyone is aware of what might impact your roadmap and how.
How to create a roadmap for project management
Now that you know what a project roadmap is and what it should include, you’re ready to get to work creating one! Follow these 5 key steps to build a solid roadmap for your next project.
1. Gather your materials
Start by pulling together and reviewing all available materials, including the contract, sales notes, and anything the client has provided. Make notes about any questions and concerns you have during this process.
If you’ve got holes, determine what additional conversations you’ll need to have to complete your roadmap. This may involve internal conversations with sales and/or your project team, or it might require talking to core stakeholders on the client side.
2. Identify your audience and purpose
Before you create anything, it’s important to know who will receive the roadmap and how they’ll likely use this information. Make sure you explain why you decided to use a project roadmap and what you want it to achieve.
Your goals for the project roadmap—and how long you plan to keep it updated—depend on a number of factors, including:
- Who the audience is
- Other documents you might partner with it
- Your project budget size
- The complexity of the project
- How savvy your client is (or isn’t)
3. Map the project strategy to your process
Identify the overall project goal, and use that to create sub-goals. If you don’t have quite enough information to nail the strategy at this stage, that’s okay. The next phases of the project will make it clearer, and you can take it from there.
Then determine how these goals connect to your project process and phases. You’ll likely want to start with your usual process and adapt it as you figure out what needs to change and what needs to stay the same.
Create a rough timeline that maps goals to project phases, deliverables, and team members. Many folks like to organize this work by work group (e.g., development team), but that isn’t necessarily how external users see the work. That’s why I recommend grouping by goal or initiative.
4. Make your project roadmap visual
Now that you have a good draft started, it’s time to edit your document down and make it visual. Remember: A project roadmap should be high-level and easy to scan.
You can use a variety of tools to take your roadmap to this next level. Consider these questions when picking a tool that’s right for you:
- Will this tool allow you to easily maintain the roadmap over the life of the project? (e.g., can you quickly drop and drag?)
- Is the tool free, or does it have a monthly fee?
- Are other project managers at your organization using the tool? If not, are they comfortable trying it?
- Is there a quick, client-friendly view or export?
- Is it pretty? (Just because you’re a project manager doesn’t mean you can’t impress others with your documents.)
- Can you customize the roadmap to include the client’s branding (e.g., logo, colors, fonts)?
- Will it allow you to fit everything on one page?
- Can you extend the work you do in the tool to become a full project plan?
- Will it make a gantt chart? (While a project roadmap doesn’t have to be a gantt chart, it’s simply one of the best visual ways to communicate this information.)
Once you’ve selected a tool, add in all the elements of your project roadmap, and make sure to note dependencies, risks, and threats.
5. Share your roadmap for internal review and polish
The final step is to get internal feedback and approval. While you’ve likely been talking to some or all of your team throughout this process, it’s good to have them do a final review.
For larger projects, schedule an internal review meeting before presenting it to the client. As a project manager, you can get this roadmap started since you have more information and the time to focus on it. But all team members should feel good about the plan.
Since busy team members often like to give the “looks good" response without really processing the details, prepare specific questions for the meeting to get your team talking.
It’s also time for you to take one final look at it to make sure the project roadmap:
- Is visually interesting and easy to scan
- Doesn’t require you to know insider project information
- Fits onto one page
- Clearly shows the strategy incorporated into the project management process
- Answers what you’re doing, as well as why and when you’re doing it
How to present a project roadmap to stakeholders
Once everyone on your team is on board with the recommendation, it’s time to present it to your client.
I prefer to export the project roadmap as a one-page PDF and share it ahead of the meeting. That enables core-stakeholders to process it beforehand, setting the stage for a better conversation during the meeting. Of course, if I’m still building a client relationship, I might hold off.
I also like to stay out of project management software at the first meeting, as people can get anxious about new tools and any expectations around using them.
Here are some topics you’ll want to cover in your project roadmap presentation:
- What the project roadmap is and what it’s not (for example, it’s not a full and final project timeline)
- How the project roadmap will be used throughout the project
- Why and when the roadmap will change
- When the client will receive updates
- Any other project stakeholders you’ll share the document with
- Any concerns stakeholders have with the roadmap
Once your project roadmap is updated and approved, you’re ready to move on to project planning!
Free online project roadmap template
If you’ve never prepared a project roadmap before, there are a lot of things to consider. Feel free to start with our online project roadmap template.
With TeamGantt, everything’s online, so it’s easy to share your roadmap with others and collaborate on progress. If priorities shift, you can rearrange timelines quickly with drag and drop scheduling.
After you’ve had a chance to try the template out, be sure to adapt it to fit your project roadmapping needs. Then save your custom roadmap as a template in TeamGantt, so it’s always ready to use.
Need a roadmap for product planning? Use our free product roadmap templates to map out upcoming product features and releases.
Project roadmap examples using TeamGantt
Project roadmaps come in a variety of formats, and you might consider different ones for different situations. In TeamGantt, you can view any project as a gantt chart, task list, calendar, or board.
Let’s walk through 3 simple examples of how you might use different views in TeamGantt to manage and present your project roadmap.
Example of a project roadmap timeline in Gantt view
A project roadmap timeline works best in a gantt chart and focuses on strategies needed to reach an end-goal over time.
We used a gantt chart as the default view for our project roadmap template and organized task groups by goals or initiatives.
Change your gantt chart’s zoom settings from daily to weekly for a cleaner roadmap view, and customize the timeline to ensure it’s easy to understand at a glance. For example, you might color-code projects by initiative or assign strategies to teams using project labels.
Project roadmap examples in Board view
If your team or client prefers an Agile workflow, we’ve got you covered! Simply click the Board tab at the top of the gantt chart to set up custom columns and turn your roadmap into a kanban-style board. All of the strategies outlined on your roadmap timeline will automatically appear as cards on the board.
You can break columns down by goal or initiative or structure it based on work group, priority, or any other category you choose. The project roadmap example below organizes work into phases, and each card has a label that shows the quarter(s) work is slated for:
Some people use a now-next-later column structure to organize cards by priority, but you may want your roadmap to be a little more specific. Here’s an example of how you might use a project board to sort cards by quarter instead. In this sample roadmap, we’ve used labels to indicate which team(s) will be responsible for the work.
Make your project roadmap work for you
No matter which format you choose, it’s important to understand your “why” behind any project roadmap you create. That way, you can ensure it works to achieve your goals.
TeamGantt gives you the flexibility you need to create a project roadmap that adapts to your clients’ needs. Best of all, it comes with a clean and simple interface anyone can understand.
About the author: Lynn Winter
Lynn is a freelance Digital Strategist who combines 20+ years of experience in content strategy, user experience, and project management to bring a holistic approach to her work. She has spoken at numerous local and national conferences and hosts an annual conference for Digital Project Managers called Manage Digital (http://managedigital.io/). You can connect with her at lynnwintermn.com.