What you will find in this article:

  • How to plan projects in today's agile world
  • The differences between Gantt charts and roadmaps
  • How to build a roadmap, in theory
  • How to build a Jira portfolio roadmap using Swanly
  • The key differences between Swanly and Advanced Roadmaps

There are many ways to get your team on board with project management and planning but let’s face it; some project management tools are too complex, with learning curves that can be quite steep.

If you’re looking for a simple and easy way to create and manage portfolio project roadmaps in Jira, then you’ve come to the right place - whether you’ll be using your roadmap for a product, operations or even marketing!

How to plan projects in today's agile world?

Project management is old

Project management as a concept is old. Take the Great Pyramid of Giza; ancient records show that there were actual managers overseeing the completion of each of its four faces, and the same goes for the Great Wall of China!

And though we’ve had some type of project management since the early days, project management in the modern sense started in the 20th century with the creation of the Gantt chart, the critical path method and the Project Management Institute in the early 60s to help promote project management as a profession and help develop common project management terminology and techniques.

Agile was a big leap

A leap forward to the 21st century brings a more lightweight approach to managing projects, with the rise of agile methodologies; for more on Agile methodologies, here’s a good article.

Instead of planning and scheduling every single activity before a project starts, as they do in waterfall project management, it has become increasingly common to align team members on project missions and grant them autonomy when planning and delivering work. That is possible thanks to frameworks (like OKRs for example) and the restructuring of teams - from single function departments to cross functional teams.

The enemy: micromanagement

Using some of the old project management tools such as the Gantt chart can lead to overplanning and micromanagement. So, instead of giving teams the autonomy they need, we create their work schedule for them, estimate the work and then expect them to be creative and accountable?

Micromanagement has never pushed a team to experience ownership, or the ability to make decisions when the time comes. And so the key to managing cross functional teams as they deliver a project is to align them on project vision, with a high-level plan that includes milestones or initiatives per say. Only then can teams truly make their own decisions.

Having the right communication tools

It’s important that teams avoid getting comfortable in their bubbles, and instead, communicate with other teams on the progress of their work. Managers can then focus on the high level planning, while overseeing delivery and helping out when necessary. The key here is to have the right communication tools that discourage micromanagement, yet serve as a communication platform for team members and managers to use.

What are the differences between Gantt charts and roadmaps?

Let’s look at both and how they fare when it comes to managing projects; but if you’re looking for a very detailed comparison between Gantt chart and roadmap, you can check out this article.

What is the difference between a Gantt chart and project roadmap
Gantt chart vs. roadmap

The Gantt chart is a detailed plan

A Gantt chart is a project management tool (in a bar chart format) that displays a detailed schedule of tasks. Or in other words, a Gantt chart helps cross-functional teams understand the work that is required of them, and the order in which tasks should be completed so they can move on to the next stage of the project.

A Gantt chart is mainly useful for setting up a detailed plan as to how a team will complete a project. Jira's Advanced Roadmaps, for example, is a Gantt chart.

Jira Premium - Advanced Roadmaps as a Gantt chart
Advanced Roadmaps in Jira (source: atlassian.com)

You can clearly see key initiatives and scheduled tasks, and you can create different versions with “what if” scenarios for your project plan.

Do Gantt charts encourage micromanagement?

Now don’t go jumping to conclusions, Gantt Charts aren’t used for Waterfall projects only. And though there may be simpler ways to visualize Agile projects, Gantt charts can be used in Agile too. However, we cannot deny that the way a Gantt chart presents and tracks project plans, easily encourages micromanagement; which can ultimately kill the autonomous team.

While using Gantt charts, we often tend to schedule from the initiative to the single task level - which ultimately means that the plan soon becomes outdated and therefore hard to maintain.

Why the roadmap is better for autonomy

A project roadmap, when organized well, can give you a high-level overview of project initiatives and milestones. It’s basically your project’s 360 degree view, helping align everyone on milestones and progress; literally everyone, from teams to managers and stakeholders.

Basic next-gen project roadmap in Jira
Jira's basic roadmaps (source: atlassian.com)

There are different ways to visualize a roadmap but one of the most popular ones is the timeline roadmap. Similar to Gantt charts, timeline roadmaps allow you to plan key activities on your timeline while creating high level project schedules. Timeline roadmaps are a fantastic way to align everyone on priorities, as well as key dates and milestones. Unlike Gantt charts, timeline roadmaps are often high-level, which allows them to communicate project strategy in the simplest possible way.

What are the benefits of using a project roadmap?

The benefits of using a roadmap for your project are many, here are 4 key ones:

  • It helps with quick communication of project plans and goals given it’s a high-level visual document that is super easy to share with stakeholders and other teams.
  • It also helps manage stakeholder expectations by setting early goals, budgets, timelines, and so on, and ensuring everyone’s on the same page to begin with.
  • It assists in decision making given everyone can refer to the project roadmap where they get access to the most important goals and activities, helping them prioritize tasks and make quick decisions.
  • And finally, it’s a great tool for status updates, if your roadmap is up to date of course.
What are the benefits of using project roadmap
Project roadmap benefits

How do you build a roadmap?

How do you go about creating your own roadmap, in theory? Before you do, there are a couple of activities you might want to consider.

Define your goals, strategy, milestones and initiatives

A great tool you could use is a project canvas template. Here’s a simple project canvas template we put together so you don’t have to; once it's available, I'll add a link here so you can download it.

Project canvas - define goals, budget, resources, deadlines, customers, milestones and risk
Project canvas template

A project canvas helps you define the goals of your project, your budget and resources, the time during which the project should be completed, who your customers are, and finally, the key milestones and initiatives, as well as potential risks.

Once you’ve identified your goals and strategy, together with key milestones, you can start creating your roadmap that you can then expand into a plan.

Give clear ownership

One important point while creating your roadmap is ownership; make sure it’s clear who’s responsible for which initiative, and that they have the right team to execute.

Your roadmap can then be used as a key document during your project’s kick-off meeting for teams to use and expand into a plan.

What are the 5 steps to creating a roadmap?

Here are the 5 steps one would go through to create a good project roadmap:

1. Define goals and strategy

2. Define key milestones and initiatives

3. Give ownership

4. Identify dependencies and risks

5. Expand roadmap into the plan

5 steps to create project roadmap

How do you create cross-project roadmaps in Jira?

In theory, creating a roadmap is fairly simple, but how do you actually create a roadmap in Jira?

Well, a good example of a roadmap is the default Jira project roadmap, where you can easily plan high level initiatives i.e. epics. But it’s not the best to use in Jira, and here’s why if you want to know.

What you could opt for instead is our very own Jira portfolio roadmap app, Swanly. Swanly was designed for those who appreciate simplicity, allowing everyone to be able to create their own beautiful portfolio roadmap in Jira!

Jira roadmap timeline - a high level overview
Jira roadmap timeline

The thing about Swanly is that it’s not just a Jira roadmap; it’s a roadmap timeline with a list view that is similar to a Jira Gantt chart, and a report view that you can access for drilled down information about activity progress.

How do you create a cross-project roadmap with Swanly?

You can put together a business project canvas that you can use with your team to define your project. Here’s an example of how we defined the timeframe of our Jexo project, alongside its key milestones and initiatives.

Define key project information in project canvas
Project canvas example

Create your projects and initiatives in Jira

First, you need to create projects and initiatives in Jira. Projects can represent teams while epics in the project can represent key initiatives and milestones.

Take all the initiatives you defined in your project canvas and add them to Jira as epics.

Import your Jira projects to Swanly

Once you’re done with this process, you can move to Swanly and start planning.

Import Jira projects into Swanly project roadmap
Import projects from Jira

You can access Swanly from the main Jira navigation menu under the Apps tab. First thing you should do when you get to Swanly, is choose the view you’d like to work with; Issue or Release. Given we created our initiatives as Epics, we’ve chosen the Issue view.

Once you import your project into Swanly, you’ll be able to view projects as swimlanes on the timeline, together with the issues you created under the “+add issue panel”.

Use Swanly templates to define your stages

Before we get into scheduling initiatives on the roadmap, there’s a Swanly feature that quickens the roadmap creation process. Swanly features templates that can help create stages and assign default durations, which can save you a whole lot of time!

Jira issue template for efficiency in Swanly project roadmap
Create issue template in Swanly

It’s not a must to use templates, but you’ll find it super useful when creating roadmaps with a top down approach; especially if the scope of your initiatives isn’t yet clearly defined and estimated. In general, you can refer to a previous similar project in order to gage the average lengths of your different stages and start from there.

Schedule your initiatives on the timeline

To start scheduling your initiatives on the timeline, first open “+Add issue panel” to find all the issues from your imported projects, or use filters for specifics.

There are 2 ways to schedule an initiative on the timeline.

  1. You can either schedule it by selecting the template you created earlier, or you can define the default duration of your stages and then once you’ve selected the start date, the end date will automatically be calculated, together with stage dates.

    If you’re happy with the dates, you can then add your initiative to the timeline, and group your timeline by templates to add dimension to your project roadmap.
  2. You can simply drag and drop issues on the timeline directly from the panel. This is a bit faster at the beginning, but you don’t end up making use of the templates you created earlier. The length of the activity is predefined and depends on the zoom level you’re currently working with.
Swanly project portfolio roadmap - drag & drop feature
Drag & drop issues in portfolio roadmap

Assign ownership over your initiatives

After you’ve created your roadmap, you can start assigning ownership over the initiatives; it’s super simple to do in Swanly, just click on the initiative in the roadmap and select your assignee.

How to choose assignee for issue in Swanly Jira roadmap
Assignee in Swanly roadmap

Once you assign your initiatives, you can also group your timeline by assignee; or use an assignee filter to see the issues that belong to a certain owner.

Expand your roadmap to the plan by defining your scope

Swanly activity report view for Jira issues
Swanly activity report view

Once your roadmap is ready, you can start working with initiative owners on defining the scope. You can either create the scope in Swanly directly or you can define your scope from Jira. Either way, the scope will always appear in your Swanly activity report view, of course in real time.

Also, if your teams use any estimation methods such as story points, complexity points or time tracking in Jira, you’ll be able to track key activity progress based on its scope (i.e. child issues) from the Swanly report panel.

The progress information gets updated automatically as your team moves tasks through delivery, which means that your Swanly report view is always up to date and can be used to update status for your stakeholders. You can easily share the report by clicking on the “Share” button and sending the link.

Use Swanly for your release timelines

Manage Jira releases in Swanly release roadmap
Jira releases in Swanly

Swanly can also be used for release management; it allows you to simply create a cross-project release roadmap, manage cross-project releases and get release reports to understand progress. We won’t get into too much detail about the release management aspect of Swanly, but if you’re interested, check out this article.

What are the key differences between Swanly and Advanced Roadmaps?

What are the key differences you should know about, when comparing  Swanly and Advanced Roadmaps? You can almost achieve the same results, using one of these two tools; I guess it really depends on what you want from the app. Both apps are built for Jira project management but there are however two key differentiators: Swanly is much cheaper and much simpler than Advanced Roadmaps.

1. Swanly is cheaper than Advanced Roadmaps

Advanced Roadmaps is available in Jira Premium for $14.5 per user (as opposed to $7.5$ per user for Jira Standard). Of course, Jira Premium brings along a bunch of other features like advanced security and Jira administration BUT if you were to switch to Jira Premium only to be using the cross-project roadmap, then you’d be paying way too much!

Swanly starts at $0 per user (up to 10 users), then $1.5 per user beyond 10, and gets cheaper as you reach 200 users in your Jira Instance. And that’s quite a difference, isn’t it?

2. Swanly is simpler than Advanced Roadmaps

The second advantage of Swanly over Advanced Roadmaps is that it’s simpler. We wanted to make sure that anyone who uses Swanly is fully aware of what the plan is and where progress is at! All changes you make in Swanly are reflected in Jira, in real time of course (and vice versa) so your master plan is always up to date.

And to create reports, you don’t need to do anything really; just simply click on the activity in your timeline and you have it.

If you’re looking for something simple to help you plan and track projects in Jira, and that won't cost you an arm and a leg, then Swanly is definitely the Jira roadmap tool for you.