Strategic Roadmap for a Digital Service Development Project

Published: 30.3.2023
Categories: Design
Reading time: 5 min
Group of people outside following a person with an orienteering map.

Strategic and sustainable long-term planning is vital for any digital service development process. The more moving parts involved, the more critical this level of planning becomes. Proactive strategic roadmapping is one of the key elements in crafting a good Client Experience (CX) instead of a cluttered one and ultimately realizing business goals and objectives into measurable and desired results. In this article, we explore why a strategic service roadmap is essential for the proactive, transparent, sustainable and agile development and value generation of a digital ecosystem. Moreover, we will explore, why in this case failing to plan truly is planning to fail.

Smart, successful, and sustainable digital development

Roadmapping itself is not a new thing. There are various ways to schedule, arrange and evaluate the development of a digital ecosystem, service, product, or a single project. However, we have found that while businesses often roadmap macro-level strategies or then, on the other hand, focus the micro in terms of lining the very digital items in a neat queue, there is a gap forming in between. The question faced in many digital development projects is: how do we tie the macro into the micro and translate the big vision statements into pieces of code? To answer this question, we need to bridge that gap, not only between macro and micro level strategic (business and digital) development but also between human and digital.

At Wunder, one of the ways to achieve this is to employ user-centric design thinking and service design. Our service designers help product owners build a holistic view of the service but also break larger visions and missions apart and tie the ideas into action. This is done partly through the strategic roadmapping of a digital service development project. A strategic digital service development roadmap is (in a very compact nutshell) a visual, user-centered, and prioritized timeline for the incremental development, delivery, and evolution process of the service. It includes a schedule that allows for detailed and practical planning as well as different perspectives for the same goal, e.g., service, content production, and technical progress.

To clarify why a digital service development project needs a strategic roadmap, let’s compare it to an actual map. Imagine yourself in the middle of the ocean with your project team. Arguably, sailing is pretty hard if you don’t know where you’re going, why, what you need to do to get there, and how to know if you’ve arrived. Not to mention being aware of sea currents, deadly reefs, or places to restack your boot with fresh drinking water. Then again, with a great map, you might end up gaining more out of your journey than initially hoped for; depending on the map, you could even find an actual treasure.

As with sailing, the key to keeping the service afloat and thriving is to:

  1. Map out the future one hopes to see and define the desired destination/goal
  2. Make a detailed enough and realistic plan how to reach the defined destination – this includes recognizing the current location/status

Simply put: set goals and plan a strategy to achieve them. As maps help us navigate toward our goals while staying aware of what else the path might have in store for us, a digital roadmap enables a development project to be carried out successfully, efficiently, and reliably.

Digital roadmap vizualization

At Wunder, we want to make sure a roadmap covers both: the must-haves and the what-ifs. Our service design facilitated roadmap workshops guide the project team through an all-included process accounting for items such as:

  1. Mission and vision – The most important operations/missions and future vision/goals (where are we going)
  2. Objectives & Key results and their corresponding metrics – User-need-based development items (how will we get there)
  3. Timeline – Recognizing opportunities, risks, dependencies, and low-hanging fruits (what does the path look like)
  4. Shared practices and ways of communication – Roles, responsibilities, best practices, channels of communication, and ground rules (what do we need to do to execute the plan together as a team)

Many of our clients have very complex digital ecosystems – composed of multiple different services, which again often have various overlapping projects. Whilst managing complexity is easier through “divide and conquer”, lifting one’s head from the screen, looking at the bigger picture and the user’s point of view – all those are needed to actually stay on course. Otherwise, we easily end upbuilding a lot but not really making a difference. Developers and product owners alike have found strategic project roadmaps incredibly useful in this sense, as they enable agility, proactiveness, and transparency. Teams that are aware of the bigger picture have better chances of creating better, more sustainable solutions which work together – instead of competing against one another and possibly even hindering the long-term development queue.

As the strategic roadmaps offer larger, business goals and user-centric experience targets to tie the work to, the amount of working on “crumbs” diminishes, and the tasks feel more meaningful to everyone involved. Moreover, a clear roadmap also helps to increase agency and creativity within the team – taking charge and innovating is less risky when everyone knows where we are headed and why. Finally, strategic project roadmaps enable POs and client representatives to make more informed and strategic decisions, provide more accurate resourcing for the project at hand, and validate the return of investments through the documented timeline, measurements, and results to upper management and shareholders.

The intangible nature of services can sometimes lead us to forget that whilst you can’t really smell, taste or touch it, the service is still there – being experienced and interacted with by people. This experience-based existence increases the need for shared, long-term strategic planning. Identified mid-term goals and key results are needed to keep the otherwise immaterial whole in check. Breaking the idea – the experience – into bite-size and allocatable goals, creating a strategy for implementation, and sharing both with the entire team are key to making sure that the boat keeps moving in the right direction.

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