Effective Strategy Execution Begins With Business Roadmapping

by March 12, 2018

The advent of digital business has shortened the timing horizon for all aspects of running a business.  New, improved products and services need to reach the market at turbo speed. Cost structures need to become more efficient and more sustainable. Future operating plans will need to seamlessly change at a moment’s notice due to the next groundbreaking innovation announcement. Now, juxtapose this future with today’s reality. In 2018, the majority of organizations still can’t get their strategy executed or more than 65 percent of their projects successfully completed. Clearly something has to change, and it needs to change now.

So what’s the answer? Essentially, organizations need to move from a false expectation of certainty to a certain expectation of continuous change. That means today’s slow-moving, process-heavy strategic planning approaches are legacies that organizations can no longer afford. A new and very different mind-set is required, and at the risk of using a word that has become passé, we need to embrace a new paradigm that focuses on continuously informed decision making rather than rules, paperwork and oversight.

How can a company build a culture that values real-time decision-making capabilities? One easy place to start is by defining some simple ways in which information and ideas can be discussed at all levels of the organization. Based on experience, we strongly recommend adopting the concept of simple, lightweight strategic roadmaps to facilitate business unit–enterprise wide discussions.

Notice the word “lightweight” in front of the words “strategic roadmapping.” We’ve been advocating strategic roadmapping to organizations for years, and what we’ve seen in most cases is that the first thing anyone does is try and make it too complicated. For a business unit (BU), we recommend starting with a simple timeline showing desired business outcomes and the earliest practical date they can be delivered.

There should be no expectation that the first pass of a roadmap will be “right”—by definition, the first pass will be nothing more than the BU’s untested view of reality. Additionally, there can be no expectation that once all the roadmaps are consolidated at the enterprise level that there will be instant clarity and direction for the top down. Most ideas and proposals will take a few passes through the bidirectional communication cycle (see Figure 1) before all the pieces really start to fit together.

Figure 1. Bidirectional communication cycle

Enterprises can start BU roadmapping at any time, and if necessary without giving any formal top-down strategic direction. The only caveat is that everyone absolutely must understand that the roadmap is not an execution plan. At most, it is the best view of what the BU thinks can be accomplished in the specified time frame to meet its business objects. It should also be clear to everyone that there is an almost 100 percent probability that the BU’s view of the world will not be completely congruent with a top-down enterprise view. The initial goal of the roadmap is to surface these disconnects, because it is only by engaging in a bidirectional (top down–bottom up/bottom up–top down) dialogue that a workable approach for the entire enterprise can be crafted.

Before we go any further in this discussion, we should address the question of why a roadmap is a better tool than asking the BUs to submit a high-level project request, as most organizations do today. The answer is a subtle issue of expectations. A project request implicitly says, “This proposal is what I want now—take it or leave it.” A roadmap, on the other hand, reflects a multi-year view of a vision a BU wants to implement to achieve specific business outcomes. Additionally, by definition, roadmaps are expected to change as new and different information becomes available.

The true strength of roadmapping lies in its ability to aid in real-time decision making. Unlike budgets or annual plans, a roadmap is a living document. As information comes in that effects the work that is being done or is planned for the future, the roadmap is updated, and then the changes are communicated upward as part of the continuous bidirectional flow of information. The goal here isn’t a passive flow of data upward or downward. The goal of this communication is always centered around understanding what the data means in both the short and long term so that intelligent responses to a changing reality can be crafted.

In a world where we know things are going to keep changing, especially when we least expect them to, building the organizational muscle to ask the question “What is the best response we can make at this time?” becomes critical. Based on experience, beginning an adaptive strategy process with BU roadmapping is one of the simplest and easiest places any organization can start building this capability.

In summary:

  1. A strategic roadmap is a basis for discussion and for crafting a shared vision.
  2. Only the current release of a strategic roadmap is fixed. Everything else is considered provisional. It is clear that the future is uncertain and that all future entries on the roadmap are subject to change.
  3. A strategic roadmap has limited detail. The point of a roadmap is to focus on what the value of the investment is first, and then let the value limit the cost.
  4. Focusing on value allows for comparison between possible investments on different roadmaps.
  5. Roadmaps aid in sequencing all work across the portfolio because dependencies become clearer and can be better aligned.