This has the effect of answering three questions: Where are we now? Where do we want to go? How do we get there?

Strategic roadmaps can be particularly useful to an IT group, since developing one requires alignment with business goals and a common language, says Robert Phaal, professor at the Centre for Technology at the University of Cambridge.

Phaal, who has worked with a wide range of companies to develop strategic roadmaps, says that because road-mapping principles are generic, they can be adapted to any type of company or strategy. They are especially useful in supporting innovation because they translate abstract ideas into something more concrete.

Speaking business language

For example, a company that makes display technology uses a roadmap to illustrate how technologies in the research and development phase are forecast to progress by showing how they could be used by various products, first for a watch face, then for mobile phones and finally for a computer display. Next to a picture of each product is a short description of its technological features and market implications. The display technology roadmap translates highly technical information into simple visuals and text that leaders outside the IT group can understand.

That simplicity is deceptive, Phaal said. Representatives from across the enterprise must meet and develop the one-page view of business strategy, then synthesise their partial views into a holistic one. Creating the roadmap also points out gaps in the strategy or ways a project may become a dead end.

For these reasons, he said: "Many find the process of road-mapping even more valuable than the road map itself."