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That’ll Break Everything: Creating a Technology Roadmap

“That’ll break everything!” Ever heard someone say that, or something like it before and wished you had some, any, kind of picture or translation of what your technology landscape ACTUALLY looked like, how it’s organized, and where and how it needs to evolve to support your goals?

Graphic rendering of a train engineers cab

Most software product companies have a product roadmap that serves as both an organizing and communication device. Most companies today rely on technology to get the job done in the same way software companies rely on technology to generate revenue. But if you are one of these, do you have a technology roadmap? If you are a software company, you need both a product roadmap and a technology roadmap.

What is a Technology Roadmap Anyway?

Much like a product roadmap, the technology roadmap articulates how the technology platforms used by the company (and/or software product) are planned to evolve over time in order to serve the needs of the business. It is prioritized, and (where possible) has timeframes associated with individual product roadmap items. It paints a clear picture of what the current state of technology platforms are, how they will change over time, and why.

Why You Need a Technology Roadmap

Where a product roadmap is focused on creating value for customers, a technology roadmap is focused on creating capabilities for your company. Capabilities that are needed to reach business objectives, product features, security and regulatory needs, and so forth. Without one, the technology you are using will evolve in unexpected ways and quite likely cost quite a bit more in real and opportunity costs than you want. It provides direction and a clear linkage of your technology assets to the value creation engines in your business.

Creating a Technology Roadmap

When contemplating the creation of a technology roadmap, there are four key things you need as inputs in order to be successful.

  1. Short- and long-range business goals. Ask the question, what does the company need to do in the next 30 days to become/remain successful? Then repeat this question for 60 days, 90 days, 1 year, and 3 years. Know that the longer the time horizon, the goals will become less defined and more subject to changes.
  2. Know your current state technology footprint. Don’t guess, don’t assume. Do an assessment so you know for sure what you have, how it works, how it’s operated, and where the skeletons are. Skeletons are important to know. A Fortune 100 CIO once told me that the thing that scared him the most were skeletons because they cause silent failures that go undetected until it’s too late.
  3. Mind the gaps. Map out the gaps between the current state technology platforms and known goals, and then rank these in terms of priority. Priority may be a function of pain, inability to achieve a goal, opportunity cost, etc.
  4. Future State. Now go back and revisit the goals again (notice a theme here?) and work backward from what things look like when those goals are achieved and project what the future technology landscape needs to look like in order to serve those goals.

Close the Gap

With this information in hand, you can now start to look at what the evolution from the current state to the future state looks like. Be sure to pay attention to any gaps that create discontinuous breaks. You can rough-order of magnitude each of the technology progressions and project them in time based on the timing of the business objective, cost/difficulty/LoE to complete, and other factors. You will most likely find that you need to make judgement calls between things that address current pain vs. items that create new opportunities.

It’s Alive

Know that the roadmap will have to adapt as the business goals and competitive landscape change, and new technologies become viable and cost-effective to adopt. Your technology roadmap is a living document that will need to be updated and revised over time. Care for it well, and you much less likely to get unpleasant surprises from your technology organization when changes are needed.

It’s About Time

Depending on how big your organization is and what your internal skillsets are, it can take anywhere from a week to a few months to put a comprehensive roadmap together. If your revenues are under $100 million, then you are leaning toward the short side of this, if you are over $1B, plan for a longer project. Either way, if you don’t have a (current) technology roadmap in place, the sooner you can remedy this gap, the better off your business, product, and technology organizations will be.

Get ‘er Done

If you really want to be expedient in putting a practical and sustainable technology roadmap in place, reach out to us for help. We’ve built technology roadmaps with our clients for well over a decade across industries in companies ranging from startups to global enterprises and can help your team get there in a thorough but streamlined and cost-efficient exercise.


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