Do you have a roadmap?

Last week a client said that what her employees were really looking for in the coming months, as they go through a change in responsibilities was a roadmap. That set me wondering what a roadmap is, what it is used for and what I've learned about them.

What a roadmap is
People in the organizational development and design fields often talk about roadmaps. Just take a look at Google Images response to the question: 'What is an organization development roadmap?' and you will see a huge number of possibilities. I was struck by the one that's actually a book title: Roadmap: How to Understand, Diagnose and Fix Your Organization. There seems to be some mix-up in ideas here. The sub-title is more like a car maintenance manual, though I guess if I'm driving along and the car breaks down then the maintenance manual might help.

I think one of the issues with the term 'roadmap' is just this kind of confusion. The word 'roadmap' covers a multitude of ideas. The Google images for organization development roadmaps include (among many other types) the following. You'll see a hyperlink to an example of the type.

My takeaway from the twenty minutes or so that I spent scanning these was that the common ground is that a 'roadmap' is some form of static representation that shows a sequential 'journey' from where you are now to where you think you want to get to. Despite the lure of that idea it is not quite so simple.
Thus I rather liked the single page graphic which combined a pyramid, an inverted pyramid, a flow chart and lots of arrows pointing up/down and left/right. I liked because it illustrated in one image that organizational design and development work is often immensely confusing and you never know whether you are progressing or back-sliding or working in different directions simultaneously.

And then I read an article about Google maps which says 'the old map was a fixed piece of paper … the new map is different for everyone who uses it. … A map has gone from a static, stylized portrait … to a dynamic interactive conversation.' I'm hoping that this is shades of things to come as far as organizational roadmaps go.

So I'm only a bit clearer about what a roadmap is. Just to repeat it's a representation of a sequence of activities that take you in a particular direction. And there's a future possibility that people's 'dialogue with the map [will become] much more personal'

What are roadmaps used for?
What the client I mentioned wanted from a roadmap was, in fact, two things

a) Something to show staff that the organization redesign that they were about to initiate was planned carefully and that they would be able to see, and for some be involved in, activities along the way. So really she wanted what I would call a project plan.
b) An explanation, again for staff of how the proposed new design would gradually build individual and organizational capacity. In this request she wanted a maturity model.

So these requests were really for communication tools that would help her explain to people the plan and the outcome.

Other clients are looking for security and risk mitigation when they ask for a roadmap. They want to have confidence that investment in the design or development process is going to take them along the path they have agreed to at the start, and there will be orderly progression. I think that's a completely understandable requirement but a little worrisome if the right review points and go/no go decisions are not in plain sight in the plan. It reminds me of the Winston Churchill quote that 'Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.' I have seen rather a number of projects stick to the plan when the plan needs revision and, in the jargon, 'recalibrating'. It is very rare that a plan goes according to plan.

Confidence in the plan can work wonders however. Karl Weick, the organization theorist, tells a story of Hungarian soldiers getting dropped in a mountain range and finally discovering one of them has a map which they use to make their way to safety only to find that the map in question was of a different mountain range. The notion around the story is that 'any map will do' but it requires you to both believe the map to be true and not look at it too closely. An excellent article, Substitutes for Strategy Research: Notes on the source of Karl Weick's anecdote of the young lieutenant and the map of the Pyrenees, by Thomas Basboll and Henrik Graham discusses the story and Weick's role in using it to illustrate points.

In summary then roadmaps are communication vehicles, security and risk managers, and confidence builders.

What I've learned about roadmaps
I've seen a variety of roadmaps (all of the types mentioned above) used in a variety of ways. In one organization the change maturity model – we called it the change continuum – was immediately adopted as an easy way to see what the end point was intended to be. Walking around the building we could see the model pinned up on individual notice boards, brought out at meetings, and progress along it was discussed at regular design team updates. It served a purpose for a time but then a change of leadership swept through and wanted to see less of a maturity model and more of a project plan.

What I learned from this was that choice of roadmap format is important. Some appeal to some people and others to people – which is perhaps why so many types of map exist. Akin to this are questions I haven't yet answered for myself: Are roadmaps culturally specific? Do roadmaps reflect the perspective of the person drawing them and/or influence the way the users experience the journey? Certainly cartographers present their world view in different ways. And Google maps is showing that people use maps in different ways. What subliminal messages are the roadmaps we choose giving to people because of the way they are constructed?

I've also seen the project plan type of roadmap used as sticks to beat people 'You said we'd be here by now, why are we so far behind?' This can happen when people are asked to do the impossible and deliver a project in a given time-frame. They may know that this isn't going to work but don't have the skills or confidence to predict a more realistic timeframe or argue the trade-offs between time, cost, and quality. (Or time, resource, scope).

What I've learned from this is that the sponsor of the project and the consultant working on it must regularly review and update the plan in the light of changing circumstances – this takes time and courage but is better than ploughing on against the odds.

The third thing I've learned is that roadmaps are the tacit representational elements of the project. They are not the project. The project has people, culture, and politics all involved. I am often reminded of a literal car journey. We have the physical paper map, (or GPS system) we know the route and we set off confident. Along the way we are talking and don't hear the GPS voice telling us to make a left. Too late and we have to detour. We decide to stop for coffee but suddenly traffic slows and we find ourselves in a long tail-back. We get irritable and so on …

So roadmaps are good for some things but they are not the whole thing. People are taking the journey along the road. Roadmaps should be accompanied by some principles in how they are used and deployed.

Meg Wheatley has 10 excellent principles for managing change that fit what I have in mind. You can look at them here. In brief, the principles are:

  • People support what they create.
  • People act responsibly when they care
  • Conversation is the way human beings have always thought
  • To change the conversation, change who is in it
  • Expect leaders to come from anywhere
  • Focusing on what is working gives us energy and creativity
  • The wisdom resides within us
  • Everything is a failure in the middle
  • Humans can handle anything as long as we're together
  • Generosity, forgiveness and love

Summary: Choose the right roadmap(s) for your journey, involve the people taking the journey, and be prepared to change the route. Even better think about changing the destination if circumstances seem to make that a wise choice. Sticking with the original destination may be foolish in some circumstances.

What are your experiences of roadmaps? Let me know.