One of the most important and challenging tasks that IT architects participate in, or even lead, is the development of enterprise roadmaps. These differ from schedules or integrated master schedules in that they're meant to represent the realization of capability goals instead of simply tracking project tasks, milestones or intended delivery dates. However, these roadmaps often provide the starting point or reference framework for all schedules related to the goals it covers.
Enterprise roadmaps follow no standard format because they're a strategy more than anything, or a starting point for everything else that follows. More than that, roadmaps are often used as "What If" tools as well, outlining multiple possible paths to achieving organizational goals. There are quite a few software tools that provide different types of road-mapping features. You're most likely to find them in Enterprise Architecture suites, but it's important to keep in mind that you can build a roadmap from scratch if necessary.
So why are architects involved in, or even the leaders of, strategic activity? For several reasons:
- They're tasked to manage solutions from a holistic perspective, and thus must be involved to some extent in tempering the organization's expectations in relation to what is or isn't technically feasible. Plus, its generally customary to allow the person who must execute a plan to be involved in developing it.
- They're trained to take complex situations and provide visual reference artifacts that illustrate both the problem and the solution. Sometimes this is done using standard modeling notation, like the Universal Modeling Language. Other times it's dictated by the feature sets of the software used to create the roadmap. Sometimes, though, it's completely unique, coming from the mind of the architect. Whatever their approach, the architects' common denominator is the ability to take highly technical information and make it relevant and understandable to just about anyone, without over-simplifying it to the point where its meaningless.
- They're trained to look for dependencies, constraints and risks at both a holistic and a detailed level. If this examination occurs up front, the initiative has a much higher likelihood of success.
The Key Skills
To most effectively complete the roadmap, the architect should strive to:
- Illustrate capabilities in context, both with one another as well as with existing constraints and future expectations.
- Illustrate sequential implementation while highlighting interdependencies. Of course, this doesn't have to be as detailed as an Integrated Master Schedule, but the effort does need to be able to show the highlights -- those areas which will have the most impact or the greatest risk.
- Illustrate the core business challenges or problems being tackled.
- Properly define and prioritize chunks of capability.
- Visualize the roadmap to emphasize the links between core goals and outcomes.
- Facilitate communications, since the roadmap is often used to generate internal support or pursue funding.
- Maintain a sense of reality and an understanding of the business impacts of what's being recommended. Because of this ability, architects are often the go-to resource when developing IT cost estimates and business case justifications.
Building an enterprise roadmap can be a daunting task, but putting the right people in charge is a good way to start. Image: everystockphoto.com