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How to Create a Website Development Roadmap

Thinking more strategically is one of the most transformative changes you can make to running a website. Having a vision for where you want to take development in the future helps focus your decision making and allocate available time and resources.

Website development roadmap

Why create a development roadmap?

Roadmaps are useful for teams of one, but their benefit grows as the number of people working on a product increases, especially where that includes a mix of in-house and agency staff. Having an agreed destination and a shared understanding for how you will get there keeps everyone pulling in the same direction.

Without a long-term vision for your website it is all too easy to get absorbed in the day-to-day and prioritise short term work that doesn’t necessarily serve your long-term goals.

The result is that things move forward slowly and effort can get duplicated as parts of the site need repeatedly redeveloping to accommodate features that weren’t envisaged when they were originally built.

If you operate in a competitive market or just have limited development resource a clear roadmap can help avoid product stagnation, whilst still ensuring that essential maintenance and bug fixes are still taken care of. The result is digital products that continue to improve over time.

Designer looking at a wall of product development ideas.

What is a development roadmap?

In its simplest form a development roadmap is a plan for tackling future work. But it isn’t meant as a direct replacement to your daily to-do lists or dedicated project plans. Rather it acts as a compliment to them, providing a more strategic top-level view of everything you plan to undertake over the next few months and how those pieces of work fit together.

There isn’t a prescribed timespan that a roadmap must cover, but 6 to 12 months is pretty typical.

How should I build it?

At The Pixel Parlour we have experimented with a range of roadmapping tools from spreadsheets to dedicated software solutions. Which tool is right for you will depend on the detail you want to go into, the complexity of the tasks and size of your team.

When making your software choice an important aspect to remember is that your roadmap will be a working document, rather than something that gets created once and set in stone.

You need a tool that is equally flexible. The output also needs to be easy to share as a roadmap is only valuable if your team are actually going to refer to it.

The value of a dedicated piece of software really becomes apparent if you have a large team or need to manage a number of complex and inter-connected products. By having an understanding of the dependencies between tasks and the available resources an app like OmniPlan can automatically reflow future tasks as things change. But those smarts come at a price and also involve some investment in learning how to get to grips with how it all works and to input all the project and resource information in the first place. For those just getting started or with relatively simple projects to manage a spreadsheet or even just a bunch of sticky notes on a wall can work just as well and be a lot easier to maintain.

Post-it note roadmapping

How to get started

We have found that there are three main elements to think about when creating an effective development roadmap…

Aims:
The first element is to identify some clear aims for the year. These will help focus everything that follows. They could be very concrete business goals such as ‘increase new business enquiries’ or more more abstract aims such as ‘improve customer satisfaction’. A healthy mix of these usually works well and we will use them to help prioritise tasks and justify their place on the roadmap.

Measures of success:
Having goals is great, but we also need a way of assessing whether we have achieved them. So the second important element is to think about what metrics can be used to assess your performance against each goal. For example an aim like ‘improve platform reliability’ might be assessed by combining figures for website availability, page load times and a count of the support requests submitted over a given time period. Putting in place processes to capture this performance data at the start is certainly going to be a lot easier than trying to go back and collect it after the fact.

Tasks:
Identifying tasks is usually the easy bit. You probably already have a big list of improvements and new feature requests stacked up. The tricky part is getting these tasks into some kind of priority order and mapping them out over time.

The first step is to estimate the effort and people that will be needed to achieve each of them. Next we can return to the goals we identified and think about how far any one of these tasks will help us achieve them. The more goals a particular development job ticks the higher it should probably go in our priority order.

Some tasks will have specific deadlines and others will be naturally linked and need to follow on from each other. You will probably also have some tasks that are recurring, such as user testing or maintenance. We can use these constraints along with our priority scoring to help establish a logical running order. This process is what takes time and where a more dedicated piece of software can start to pay for itself if you have a lot of tasks to juggle.

Example development roadmap on iPad

Choosing the appropriate level of detail can really help creating a roadmap that will be practical to build and maintain.

In planning our internal development work we have settled on a week as our smallest unit of time and a month as the upper limit for how long any individual task can be allocated to run for. That doesn’t mean that a task has to take at least a week, just that the most granular we get for knowing whether things on track is what should be achieved in any one week. This has proved easy to follow and equally easy to maintain.

Making your roadmap work for you

They say that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The same will probably be true of your roadmap, particularly in the early days. Be prepared for this period of adjustment. Blocking out some dedicated catch-up time every few weeks is a simple way to help mitigate any slips in your schedule.

It is also useful to have a clear understanding of what you hope to get from your roadmap and use that help shape your approach. We tend to keep ours big picture, setting out a clear strategy for delivering the key tasks that we have agreed will achieve the goals we set out at the beginning of the year. How will you use yours?

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Nick Barron

Written by

Nick Barron

In his role as UX Director Nick ensures that everything we do reflects a clear understanding of our clients’ aims as well the expectations of their audiences.