Engineering Leaders: Have You Set Your 18-Month Technical Roadmap Yet?

Without a plan in place or a defined strategy, your teammates won’t know what they are working towards.

Written by Mark Kinsella
Published on Mar. 22, 2022
Engineering Leaders: Have You Set Your 18-Month Technical Roadmap Yet?
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Most companies have strategic objectives in place for the broader business. But have you ever thought about the technical vision for the organization? 

It’s incredibly important for engineering leaders to set a clear and specific vision. Without a plan in place or a defined strategy, your team won’t know what they are working towards. It becomes difficult to make day-to-day decisions without a well-understood, well-articulated vision that your company’s executives, stakeholders and decision makers all agree upon. Your team might become hesitant to do big things and take on big bets, only focusing on the small, incremental wins and improvements. Without a technical vision or direction, it becomes a real challenge to recruit promising talent to grow your team. Simply put, they are vital to companies of all sizes and stages.

I believe your technical vision for the company must stem from the business goals. And then you need to take one step back as an engineering org to figure out what is needed to do to accomplish those business goals. 

This is exactly what we did at Opendoor: We’re operating in a 100-year-old, multitrillion-dollar industry that is using 20th-century technology. And our engineers are at the forefront of modernizing and innovating the home-buying and selling process, which is no easy feat. So in order to stay on target, we needed to create a technical vision to unite our approach. 

Here are three things to keep in mind when setting a technical vision at your company.

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The Purpose and Impact of a Technical Vision

Where do you see your company’s technology in five years? Ten years? 

Understanding the big-picture goals gives your team alignment and clear direction to know what, how and why they are doing specific projects. It’s important to provide a clear understanding of how their work — however technical it might be — fits into the bigger business objectives. This gives your team purpose, and it demonstrates the significant value each member brings to the team. 

For example, my team had three main purposes as part of our technical vision last year:

  1. To be a force multiplier on the business through pragmatic automation
  2. To help scale the business and engineering tech team
  3. Go deliver high-quality products to our customers

As a result, one team built our tooling and automation to help us scale our real estate marketplace to more than twice markets in the last year alone, bringing our total to 45 markets to date and counting. Our engineers made the day-to-day decisions differently because we had the technical vision in place to help build out what we needed for the long run. 

Technical visions provide clarity around what it will feel like if your team is capitalizing on their goals and doing their job. So when my team addresses those three main purposes and does them well, we’ll help activate some of the bigger company objectives. 


Your Technical Vision Should Be Threefold

Once you’re clear on the importance of setting a technical vision for your company, the natural next step is to create one. There are many ways to create a technical vision but I like to build these out in three parts. 

3 Key Questions to Guide Your DevOps Technical Vision

  1. Where are we going?
  2. Where are we now?
  3. How do we get there? 

The “where are we going” piece — or the long-term vision — is essentially the north star. In this section, you are painting the picture of what you want your technology to look like in the long term, which can be one, five or 10 years down the line. I believe it’s essential to start here and begin your plan with this question. 

The second piece is the “where are we now” aspect. In this section, you should elevate the current state of the world and how you’re making an impact. 

The third piece is the roadmap. The roadmap highlights how you’ll get there and how you’ll achieve your goals and eventually, your long-term vision.

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Build Out the 18-Month Roadmap 

The last step of setting a technical vision for your company is going deeper into the roadmap I mentioned above. These are the tactical and technical building blocks that help you accomplish your goals. On my team, we set an 18-month technical roadmap that is very specific. 

To correctly order our milestones at Opendoor, we typically align our team roadmap to the current business roadmap. The plan should detail the steps that will move you from your current status to an improved state. It’s more around innovation, new features, new products, new work and continued iteration than keeping the lights on. Here’s my breakdown: 

How to Order the Milestones on Your Engineering Roadmap

  • 50 percent of your roadmap should focus on immediate wins.
  • 20 percent should focus on big bets.
  • 30 percent should focus on tech excellence and maintenance.

The beauty of setting an 18-month roadmap is that once it is set, you don’t have to do quarterly planning anymore. Take the three months off the front of the plan, and you have your goals for the quarter ahead. Then add three months of work to the latter part of the plan so it’s consistently an 18-month roadmap. 

Setting a technical plan that outlines your long-term vision and technical roadmap — and maps back to the bigger business objectives — is key to helping your team navigate their role in the business. Setting a technical vision for the company not only helps your engineering and tech teams be successful, it will help the business succeed, too.

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