How to create a digital roadmap (and why you need one)

By Nicholas Weber

Digital roadmaps are helping organisations as diverse as the National Theatre and Imperial War Museums to achieve their strategic goals through digital initiatives. But what exactly are they, and how can they deliver business value? 

What is a digital roadmap?

Having a comprehensive, flexible roadmap in place is key to making sure that your digital initiatives deliver impact against your strategic goals.

A digital roadmap is a high-level document that outlines what your business wants to achieve, identifying some digital initiatives that can help you get there. 

It provides a blueprint for action that aligns your digital initiatives with short- and longer-term business objectives. Ultimately, digital roadmap development is about enabling your organisation to convert the business vision into a realistic action plan that negotiates risk and ensures that digital initiatives deliver ROI.  

The roadmap should be clear, concise, flexible, and accessible to all parts of the business. Supporting documentation can be used to provide further detail. 

Why you need a digital roadmap

Forward-thinking businesses recognise that we operate in a time of ‘constant transition’. Rigid plans are no longer helpful in this ever-changing environment.

In many ways, a digital roadmap is like a GPS system for the company’s digital strategy. It allows a business to see where it is and where it’s heading. 

As with a GPS system, a direction of travel is established, but the exact route can change along the way. That's because a successful roadmap is able to constantly evolve in line with continuous insight – for example, about the changing demands of your customer base.

Without this continuous insight, and a realistic plan for where you want to go, you risk making unfocused digital investments that fail to deliver return or sustainable value for you and your customers.

But it’s just as important to have a roadmap that’s actually effective. 

How to define an effective digital roadmap  

  • Avoid rigid plans. The digital roadmap should be a live document that can grow with the business. It provides a constant reference point to keep the digital strategy on track and aligned with the business goals – even as those goals evolve over time. The roadmap needs to be reviewed on a frequent basis and updated in line with real-time analysis, changing business requirements, and influence from external factors such as what competitors are focusing on, market forces, and disruption attempts. 
  • Collaborate with all relevant stakeholders. While they should only have one owner, digital roadmaps should be created and maintained as part of collaborative workshops that involve all relevant stakeholders. This is key to creating an integrated digital strategy focused on achieving an agreed, shared business goal, rather than delivering a series of isolated digital initiatives. A product manager typically owns the digital or product roadmap, refining it with the support of a digital product owner (or several product owners). These individuals play an important role in ensuring ongoing value delivery, rather than one-off projects.
  • Start with clearly-defined business objectives. A roadmap needs to be based on clearly-articulated strategic goals from the outset, and must include key performance indicators to measure progress of the digital strategy against those goals. It should build in ambitious but achievable milestones and checkpoints for assessing progress made, demonstrating the rationale of the proposed digital strategy. A useful first step is to use SWOT analysis to identify where the gaps are in your business proposition, processes, and supporting capabilities (such as your technology stack and the people who support it). Then identify which areas you want to specifically address.

Include an assessment of each digital initiative’s value against complexity, cost, and risk. This helps to assess whether a digital initiative is worth delivering. And its capacity for achieving results against the pre-defined goals. 

  • Consider a consultancy. External benchmarking and competitor analysis from a third party can help you consider your competitive landscape, as well as the product and technology options to support your goals and direction. This external perspective can be helpful for conducting a strategic review of how a digital strategy compares and relates to the wider market, consumer expectations, and the competition. Look for experienced consultancies who can help you assess your options, gain consensus amongst stakeholders, and achieve your goals faster.  

In this video we talk to Boden about the value of digital roadmaps

Imperial War Museums (IWM) is a great example of how a digital roadmap can empower an organisation that depends on technology, but that's ‘not principally geared around digital technology’. 

Charles Bodsworth – who led Imperial War Museums' digital transformation strategy – says that the process of customer journey mapping and digital roadmapping is critical for ‘reminding us who we are doing this for and the benefits to our customers’. 

The digital roadmap development work IWM conducted in partnership with Inviqa ensured that the organisation could ‘forecast and anticipate investment several years ahead’. It also helped IWM focus on the project management and digital skills they needed to ‘step up to the challenge’.

We had a digital strategy that set out what we wanted digital technology to achieve for us – and how it should transform us as an organisation. But we needed to add expertise, perspective, and capacity to turn that strategy into a roadmap we could execute. That’s where engaging an external agency came in.

Charles Bodsworth, Imperial War Museums

Roadmapping ≠ digital transformation

It’s important to remember that a digital roadmap in isolation is not a passport to successful digital transformation or digitalisation.

Your ability to drive customer and business value from the digital roadmap is directly influenced by your business context. And whether the business has the right teams, processes, and software systems to meet diverse customer needs and drive sustainable business growth.

But done effectively, a digital roadmap gives you the guidance and direction you need to progress with digital experiments that help you learn more about your customers quickly, test assumptions, and build business cases for digital initiatives. 

Got questions? Chat to us about digital roadmap development or how to prime your digital initiatives for success with digital strategy consulting.

Prime your digital initiatives for success