What’s the difference between a roadmap and a delivery plan?

So many discussions must take place in digital teams about the difference between a roadmap and a delivery plan. They are very different tools that serve different purposes, and you probably need them both, but it’s easy to say one and mean the other. So, here’s what makes a roadmap different from a delivery plan.


Roadmaps are usually (or at least should be) goal-based, whether implicitly or explicitly (which is better). They state what you’re trying to achieve, hopefully because those goals will help the organisation implement its strategy for being successful.

Gov UK Roadmap
Gov UK Roadmap

A roadmap is used to prioritise the work, which means choosing what you will and won’t do. It’s logic is ‘this, not that’. As it the example above from gov.uk, some of the things that can be done to achieve the goal are being worked on now (they’re in the ‘Now’ column) and some might be worked on later, which expresses the either/or choice that roadmaps require.

Good roadmaps also express options and uncertainty. The items in the ‘Later/Future/Exploring’ column might never make it into the ‘Now’ column because as they are investigated and shaped it could be that it’s found that the option wouldn’t help to achieve the goal.

Once we have a roadmap, then we produce a Delivery Plan to describe when the work in the ‘Now’ column can be delivered.

Delivery plans

A delivery plan is used to sequence the work. It describes when the work will take place and when it is expected to be finished. It’s logic is ‘this, then that’. It helps to understand what work can happen in parallel and what is dependent on a piece of work being finished (the dependency might be technical or because people are busy).

Example of a delivery plan
An example Delivery Plan

A reliable delivery plan needs work outside of the plan to consider people’s availability and capacity and some idea of whether the work can be achieved in that length of time, otherwise it’s a bit of a guess rather than being based on facts.

Questions about roadmaps and delivery plans

Can a roadmap have dates?

Yes, it definitely can, but those dates should be for information against each of the goals, for example, ‘Goal 2 must be met by date x for this reason’.

Does a roadmap list features?

No, a roadmap isn’t just an ordered backlog. A backlog is a whole other tool that does a different job. Roadmaps help to understand what the goal is and options for how we’re going to achieve it

How far into the future or past should a roadmap show?

For as long as it takes to achieve the goal. That’s why roadmaps are often organised in columns of ‘Now’, ‘Next’, ‘Later’, ‘Done’ as they convey a past and future without being constrained to a date on a timeline.

Who should see the roadmap?

Everyone who’s work has impact or is impacted by the work that will happen to achieve the goal.

How detailed should a delivery plan be?

It shouldn’t go to the level of tasks, but it depends what other planning tools you use. If, for example, week 14 shows that an identity management solution is being developed, and the developers have user stories to take into a sprint planning session, then the delivery plan doesn’t need to be detailed.