Getting IT Road Mapping Right

IT Strategic Planning Needs IT Road Mapping

“All you need is the plan, the roadmap, and the courage to press on to your destination“.

- Earl Nightingale

This triumvirate of requirements for achieving goals is certainly applicable to IT. The good part about this is that, in IT, there are tools available to support planning and road mapping. And if the tools are good enough to give you confidence in your plan and your roadmap, mustering up the courage to press on is easy.

What role does the IT roadmap play in this winsome threesome? Like a highway roadmap, the IT roadmap is a picture showing a sequence of stations along a path stretching from a current position to the desired destination. And like a highway roadmap, it can include a lot of other qualitative information such as relevant actors, dependent systems and cost. For an IT roadmap, however, one particular aspect is essential: time. Time is the common relating factor between an individual roadmap and all other interdependent roadmaps as well as other planning systems (such as HR skills planning).

Maybe a better analogy for road mapping is a music score. Road mapping is the tool IT planners and architects use to keep all of the moving parts of the enterprise in synch and to know where they are in the run of things. Like an orchestra with so many different instruments, each playing its own strain of music, without the score to show the timing for each instrument and where we are in the piece, chaos ensues.

Roadmaps set the organization in motion. People start to take action when they have a path to follow and deadlines to meet. For this reason, roadmaps are not just a means of communication and coordination but also a means to measure progress against goals.

This series will cover several aspects of road mapping. In this episode, we will look at why strategic IT planning and portfolio management requires IT road mapping. 

IT road mapping is inherent to strategic IT planning

Strategic IT planning encompasses all activities that are related to making decisions on how IT should be deployed and managed. Forrester defines six key elements of a road map:

  • A time frame that reflects the organization’s expectation of outcome delivery.
  • Prioritized and identifiable outcomes.
  • Strategic themes that provide clarity for prioritization.
  • Context-specific road map content that reflects stakeholder needs.
  • Clarity on dependencies that may affect the delivery of the outcomes.
  • Transparent investment outlay during the time frame.1

Strategic IT planning provides structure and governance in an increasingly complex and extremely dynamic world. A current trend in IT planning is the move to portfolio management. IT planning takes into account an extreme amount of organizational aspects. Portfolios help to separate and group the different aspects into themes to be able to observe and manage them at a more abstract level and avoid getting lost in detail. Every theme can have several portfolios as alternative reactions to various conditions. This lends readiness and agility to the IT organization‘s ability to react to change. 

Portfolios are dependent upon 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 and are indispensable in large organizations with interdependent operational units.

Figure 1: Roadmaps coordinate change between interconnected portfolios.

Whereas roadmaps coordinate at the level of single entities, portfolios raise roadmaps to a bigger picture and enable scenarios. In many situations, a company will want to weigh all of the alternatives - this means putting qualitative criteria to different options (strategies, demands, capabilities, different applications or technologies). Qualitative assessment is nicely supported by portfolios. And once the decision has been made, a roadmap will tell how to transact that decision. Unlike financial portfolios where the transaction is clear and executed upon the time of decision-making, in the business-IT environment, it takes weeks and/or months to transact on a change that‘s been identified.

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 – something so many IT organizations are concerned with today, whether the result of an M&A, a proliferation of applications and technologies, or negligence in timely retiring unused systems. In consolidation initiatives, roadmaps ensure the precise timing of shutting down applications, rolling over to new technologies and introducing new IT support for business.

Most importantly, roadmaps help IT align with business. Roadmaps:

  • provide a common language between business and IT to be able to communicate sudden changes to plans throughout an increasingly complex organizational setup
  • show the activities and timing of various projects to make sure IT projects don‘t adversely affect business project delivery
  • lend transparency to IT plans to ensure that business project plans aren‘t built on false assumptions about what IT can deliver
  • demonstrate progress on delivering to a business strategy
and let you know the following:
  • velocity of change
  • decision points
  • event sequencing
  • dependencies
  • future risk

Stay tuned for our next episode on different types of roadmaps for different purposes.

1 Use BT Road Maps To Drive Strategic Portfolio Management, by Margo Visitacion, Forrester Research, December 20, 2018