How to Design Your Start-Up’s Roadmap to Success

The traditional strategic consulting engagement is made up of three parts:

  1. The As-Is Analysis (Where are we today?)
  2. The Mission & Vision (Why are we here and where are we going?)
  3. The Roadmap (How are we going to get there?)

Today we’re tackling the Roadmap, which is just a fancy term that groups all of the activities you’re going to do that will take you from where you are today to where you’d like to be.  Obviously, these initiatives and activities will vary widely depending on your business and overall situation, but there’s an excellent framework (remember how much consultants love frameworks?) that will help you organize and prioritize.

First, get together your leadership team and go over the As-Is Analysis and the Vision – how far is one from the other?  Next, list all the possible initiatives that can help you get from where you are today to where you want to be.  We’re not looking for people to take ownership of projects at this time, or even focusing on big ideas; instead, just make sure to get all of the possible initiatives written down.

For example, if you’re an app start-up in beta mode, what will it take to get to the next level?  Do you need to build a better version of the app?  Lead a focus group with existing and potential users?  Build an Android/iOS version?

This is what we call the “Define initiatives” step, and it’s the first step of the Roadmap.  Here are the four steps to building your Roadmap:


Now that you’re done with Step 1, you’re going to classify your initiatives into what we call quick wins, foundational initiatives, and regular initiatives.  Here’s how we define them (and why they matter):

  • Quick Wins: An initiative that delivers impact with minimum time and resources. These are important because they generate momentum and make your team feel good about the progress they’re making!
  • Foundational Initiatives: These are the “must-do” initiatives that need to be completed before any major launch and on which other initiatives depend (i.e., you can’t launch an iOS app if you haven’t hired an iOS developer).
  • Regular Initiatives: These are the initiatives that you identified which are nice to have but that aren’t required to achieve your vision. They’re typically projects you don’t have enough resources to complete right now. For instance, if people and/or funding can’t be completed in a short amount of time and are independent of other initiatives.

Now that you’ve categorized your initiatives, let’s add some meat to them.

Step 3 , “Detail,” just means adding enough information so that it’s clear what the task is, the timeline, and what the measures of success are.  In other words, don’t write, “Lead a focus group”, instead write, “Lead a focus group of at least 20 current users and 20 potential users, focusing on changes to our user interface, by October 20th.”

Also, make sure that each initiative has one, and only one, owner.  Even if the project is dependent on multiple employees and outside stakeholders, having one owner allows you to keep track of all of the moving pieces, delegate effectively (the mark of any good leader), and hold people accountable for results.

Finally, prioritize and consolidate these initiatives.  Are some of them overlapping?  Do a few of them have similar themes or are trying to achieve the same goals?  Great – combine them!  Which ones have to go first, second, third, etc.?  Are some more important than others (this could be driven by investor, consumer, and/or employee concerns)?  That’s expected – prioritize them!  This is how you decide where to focus your resources and in what order to tackle the initiatives.

At this point in the engagement, you should have a detailed roadmap of all the different initiatives you need to accomplish and an understanding of how long it will take to complete them.  Looks like you’re going to need someone to coordinate all this work.  Choose a leader, typically the CEO, who will lead regular meetings (bi-weekly at least) to keep track of the status of all of these projects.

Make sure that these meetings don’t devolve into mindless check-ins or are focused exclusively on timing and schedules.  Instead, periodically ensure that the projects remain relevant to the overall vision and that your team is working closely together across initiatives to reduce duplicative efforts, streamline processes and ensure success.

So there you have it!  If you’ve kept up with us the last few weeks you now have all of the necessary tools to lead a McKinsey-level strategic engagement, save yourself a cool two million, and make sure your start-up succeeds.

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