The roadmap is not the journey

Roadmaps have preoccupied us this week. They have a kind of talismanic quality. Ours is showing us what we are going to do each year to 2020 to lead the organisation to success. It seems that if we have the roadmap then we'll know where we are going. I love the way that one consultancy firmly says that:

Roadmapping is a powerful technique – pioneered by Motorola in the 1970s – for planning an organisation's technological capabilities to ensure they meet its commercial or strategic goals. … Roadmapping can help you arrive at a shared vision of your organisation's future and an understanding of the key steps needed to realise that vision.

If only it were that simple. I doubt that Motorola's own roadmap showed the strategic goal of losing $4.3 billion from 2007 to 2009, and then being divided into two independent public companies. Clearly, some pioneers can get lost, and others can succeed even without a roadmap. Lewis and Clark are a good example of the latter. They were two leaders who, with a small organisation, traversed North America in the early 1800s in search of the northwest passage. They had a rough 'direction of travel' but no map. Part of their brief was to map as they went along.

'On April 7, 1805, the Corps of Discovery … headed west. On their maps, the land that Lewis and Clark were headed toward was indicated by a vast blank space and the word 'Unknown'.

It would be a brave organisational leader that said he/she was leading into the 'unknown' but isn't that, in fact, the case. In our case we are in the 'direction of travel' towards the '2020 vision'. The phrase 'direction of travel' is one I hear repeatedly in my current organisation and we have multiple projects that are heading towards 2020. Even so, we are not assured that our direction of travel is towards the same 2020.

Most of the projects have their own roadmap and, so far, we haven't checked whether they all have the same 2020 neither have we tried to 'brigade' them into 'alignment'. (Two other words we use a lot). Thus we may be heading towards the intriguing possibility of a multiverse of 2020 each looking different from the other. (A multiverse is a hypothetical set of infinite or finite possible universes sometimes called parallel universes – the film Sliding Doors illustrates.

I like the idea of the multiverse. It allows for the fact that we don't know whether to base a 2020 organisational roadmap on the road of steady state, the road of break-up, the road of joint-venture, the road of head honcho change followed by abrupt 180 turn, the road of unknown competitive forces striking, the road of colossal budget cut, the road of mandarin whim, etc, etc. (Or more, plausible, all of these in some form or other). I'm of the view that a single roadmap does not allow for the unknown. It implies ordered milestones being passed as travellers journey down a forecast route in a predictable universe. Read Philip Tetlock on forecasting and you may change your views on its value.

Even if we could agree a single destination point that doesn't mean there is only one way to get to it. Any chosen route is only one of several possible routes to an agreed destination. Lewis and Clark were not participating in a competitive challenge at the time but these are now becoming fairly common. The Google Lunar X-prize is one such example. Eighteen teams have the same goal – to 'develop a robot that can successfully land on the moon's surface, travel at least 500 meters and then, transmit images back to Earth'. This type of challenge opens up many routes to a same destination – a precept that organisational leaders could benefit by reflecting on.

It's easy enough to see that real roadmaps, or sat nav systems serve a purpose. They guide you from point A to point B on a journey that many have taken before. Even so, everyone knows that they are not always accurate – there's a roadsign near me telling drivers to ignore their GPS instruction and apparently this type of sign is becoming common.

This illustrates, as all travellers know, that roadmap is not the journey. Lewis and Clark's direction of travel route (broadly west across the US) does not show grizzly bear encounters, starvation, loss of supplies, extreme weather conditions, difficult bargaining rounds, topographical barriers, sickness, constant rain, or the 'gloomy' Christmas Day with a dinner of 'stringy elk meat and roots'.

Omitting to consider the journey as an integral part of a roadmap is the most significant reason to question their value. If roadmaps are developed and then 'implemented' without due regard to the human element they're pretty much doomed: it's the people that make it (or abandoning it) work.

Many journeys are successful without roadmaps. If you are in the process of developing a roadmap consider the value it is likely to bring if you don't also factor in the other element of the journey and the peole taking it. Often the map is only a single and sometimes minor factor of many in setting off towards somewhere. Lewis and Clark's task was to develop the map as they travelled. To do this, and before they started the trip, they built their knowledge and skills about their task, collected stuff they thought they would need on the trip, got authorisations to make decisions as they went and carefully selected expedition members.

In our case we are working roughly in the direction of 'on-line, digital'. Maybe we do need do roadmap but maybe we could take the Lewis and Clark approach of developing the map, or several maps, as we go along knowing that, in military comander, Colin Powell's, words: 'Organization doesn't really accomplish anything. Plans don't accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don't much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.'

What's your view of roadmaps and journeys? Let me know.

NOTE: At the end of this year I am stopping writing the blog. If you have a topic you'd like me to write about contact me. I'd be happy to consider it.