Nonprofit Technology Roadmaps: How Far Ahead Should They Look?

 In Assessments and Roadmaps, Information Strategy, Interim and Part-Time CIO

When nonprofit organizations are assessing their technology needs, and creating technology roadmaps to address those needs, they often wonder how far ahead their roadmap should look. Should it be 18 months, two years, three years, five years, or even 10 years? And what level of specificity should a roadmap have (or can it have) beyond a certain point into the future?

What should be the duration of your technology roadmap? The answer, of course, is “it depends”—as each organization’s circumstances differ. Generally, my recommendation is to align the technology roadmap to the organization’s strategic plan. So, for example, if your organization is about to create a three-year strategic plan, see if you can set the technology roadmap to extend the same duration—and to be responsive to the organization’s goals and related specific needs.

However, sometimes an organization needs a new or revitalized technology roadmap but is in the middle of implementing an existing organizational strategic plan—and can’t wait until the next strategic planning process to set their tech roadmap. In that case, it might make the best sense to create a short-term technology roadmap that lasts the remaining duration of the organizational plan, and then is reset (or validated) going into the next strategic plan period.

Because of the challenges in envisioning our future beyond a certain distance ahead, particularly in today’s fast-changing world, it often doesn’t make sense to have a super detailed roadmap that extends beyond three years.

It is worth noting that technology roadmaps should be updated at least annually, to account for shifts within the organization’s strategy and operating realities as it responds to the world around it (as we have seen in unparalleled ways in 2020-2021).

But roadmaps also need to be updated to account for changes within the technology market. For example, if you create a three-year roadmap that identifies a specific CRM for implementation in the third year, by the time you get to that point, the competitive balance in the market may have shifted relative to your organization’s needs.

In my opinion, both organizational strategic plans and technology roadmaps should be extended annually, or perhaps at the midpoint of their duration. Organizations that wait until the end of their current strategic plan (e.g., three years) to set the next plan often leave teams without adequate vision and direction when they get to the back half of the current plan—because they have little idea what to expect when the current plan expires. The same is no less true of technology roadmaps.

Even if your organization doesn’t follow my preferred practice for strategic planning, once you get to the end of the first year in your technology roadmap, add another year to the end. In this way, you always have a running three-year roadmap, even if the priorities for that added year are based on assumptions that will be later validated in a more thorough strategic planning process.

For more on this topic: See what questions a technology roadmap should answer for your organization.