How to Build a Strategic Roadmap

David Norton and Robert Kaplan once noted that 90% of organizations fail to execute their strategies successfully.  The reasons strategic plans fail can be diverse, but many of them are tied to common traits of a weak strategic plan, such as a:

  • Lack of purpose (developed “to have one,” but it sits on a shelf)
  • Lack of understanding (of the marketplace, business needs, or cause-and-effect)
  • Lack of clarity (vague, unrealistic goals, or poorly defined responsibilities/resources for execution)

You can avoid these pitfalls by spending the necessary time upfront developing a map that visualizes each element—the broad goals, context, and results—in an easy-to-digest, actionable format.

Follow a Strategic Roadmap

A strategic “roadmap” is the bridge that connects strategy to execution.  It’s a graphical representation of the moving parts between the high-level vision and the actions that will bring it to fruition.  The map shows how strategic goals will progress over a defined period through the incremental delivery of key outcomes.

Motorola is often credited with pioneering the strategic roadmapping process in the 1970s and 1980s. Robert Galvin, the CEO of Motorola when roadmapping was established, called it “an extended look at the future.”

To build one, you’ve got to ground it into data that substantiates your organization’s strengths, gaps, the potential for growth, and the priorities that—if addressed with proper resources—will lead to your desired results.  A roadmap offers many vital benefits for your company, such as:

  • Alignment between resources, research, initiatives, and goals
  • Consensus on priorities and concrete next steps
  • The emphasis of top-level vision over day-to-day obstacles
  • A basis for ongoing communication between stakeholders at all levels

Building Your Roadmap

Follow these steps to create a map from strategy to execution:

  • VISION: Mapping is a collaborative process that begins with a vision statement to encapsulate the ideal future for the company.  This “vision” is your purpose and ultimate mission as a company.
  • GOAL SETTING: Several strategic goals will spin-off of the overall vision of the organization—the desirable achievements that will altogether contribute to the broad organizational vision.
  • GAP ANALYSIS: Self-study must reveal the extent of the gaps between your current state and your desired outcome.  You might examine aspects such as the:
    • Nuances of your market niche
    • Competitive environment
    • Resources available
    • Key business capabilities linked to your goals (using KPIs)
      • Define how these aspects must change and to what degree.
  • ACTIONS: Put together a portfolio of recommended steps that can address the priorities revealed in your analysis, ultimately leading to your desired results.
  • ROADMAP: Turn this cause-and-effect flow into a graphical, visual representation—a strategy map—that leads from the foundational vision down the bifurcating branches of subgoals and actions all the way to results.

“Timeline” vs. “Swimlane”

These are two of the most common structures used for strategy roadmaps. Both show the flow from vision to results, but differ in several ways:

  • TIMELINE: A timeline map shows an overall growth strategy over a defined period (months, quarters, years), with the component initiatives and milestones included in that process. This is useful for aligning the progress of each goal in a controlled way.
  • SWIMLANE: This style prioritizes progress over deadlines.  Each team (and their goal) is assigned its own “swimlane,” with internal initiatives organized by status.  All involved can easily see which projects are in progress, completed, or up next.

Strategic Roadmap vs. Execution Plan

Many organizations skip straight to executing strategy after they’ve developed a vision and goals, but this is a mistake.  When you launch initiatives without a concrete understanding of how they will tie back to strategy, you’re destined to get lost.

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.

– Lewis Carroll

A strategic roadmap comes first, to define what needs to change, why those changes are necessary, and how they’ll lead to desired results.  Only then are you prepared to build a Gantt chart that lays out your execution plan with start and end dates for each action.

Use a Guide

You don’t have to do it all alone, though.  If you’re building a strategic roadmap, an experienced strategy consultant can help you determine the steps that are necessary to craft a vision statement and conduct a thorough gap analysis.