Rolling Wave Planning for Technology Roadmaps

Rolling wave

For a long time now we’ve been applying what’s often called rolling wave planning with our clients. Rolling wave planning is applied in several areas of the Disciplined Agile (DA) framework, including release planning by a delivery team, technology roadmapping, and product roadmapping to name a few. This article explores how to apply rolling wave planning in a pragmatic manner to technology roadmaps.

An important aspect of your enterprise architecture efforts is to provide architectural guidance, both business and technical guidance, to your organization. One of the key artifacts that enterprise architects will create is a technology roadmap that, as the name suggests, provides guidance as to the proper application of technologies within your organization. This roadmap will often supplement any “as is” and “to be” models that the enterprise architects create.

Technology roadmaps are often evolved following a rolling wave planning approach. Figure 1 depicts an example of a technology roadmap, the goal of which is to  give technical direction to solution delivery teams so as to provide safety rails around technical experimentation.

Figure 1. A technology roadmap in September 2016.

Rolling wave technology roadmap

 

Notice how this roadmap addresses several categories of technical issues:

  1. Planned upgrades. Development teams need to know what aspects of your infrastructure will be evolving and when. Upgrades that are soon to occur have been assigned dates as these changes are very likely going to impact several development teams.
  2. Experiments. From an agile point of view the most interesting thing is the list of experiments that the enterprise architects are overseeing. These experiments usually occur within one or more of the development teams underway in this company. In this case the EAs are coordinating and guiding the experiments, ensuring that the teams focus on experiments that reflect the overall direction of the organization. In some cases you may choose to have an explicit proof of concept (PoC) project to validate a new technology, a common approach for major infrastructure components or expensive packages. Either way, by planning for explicit experimentation you bring greater discipline to your learning and architectural evolution efforts.
  3. Reusable infrastructure. This company has a reuse engineering effort underway where common architectural components, in this case microservices, are built and then made available to development teams. Once again, the closer to being released the reusable components are the more likely it is to have a target date for their release.
  4. Retirements. An aspect of technology roadmaps that are often forgotten are the plan to retire existing systems and infrastructure components. An important part of paying down technical debt within organizations is the consolidation of your IT infrastructure – reducing the number of technologies that you’re using, removing redundant systems, and so on. Such retirement efforts can take months and even years. We see in Figure 1 that SQLServer is currently being retired from service, development teams are migrating to approved database technologies, and that it is slated to be completed by February 5th. In this case the enterprise license for SQLServer ends in April 2017 so they’re hoping to be completely off of it two months before that.

 

What Should the Planning Horizon Be?

Technology roadmapping tends to have between a six month and three year planning horizon depending on what is being planned for. For example, experiments are typically planned out a few months in advance as they are often driven by the needs of development teams. Major upgrades are typically planned on a horizon of six months to a year as this reflects the rate of change of many technologies. Retirements might typically planned for years in advance, particularly when the retirement could impact multiple systems.

 

How to Capture Technology Roadmaps

Technology roadmaps are typically captured in text format as you see in Figure 1 above, although a timeline format (as we say with product roadmaps) are often used for executive presentations.

This sort of planning is only one of several things that your enterprise architecture team will do of course. In addition to actively guiding development teams and working with senior stakeholders, the enterprise architects are also maintaining current and to-be models and are hopefully producing code examples for how to work with new architectural components.

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