Roadmaps as a way to encourage contributions

A guide to open-source project roadmaps.

Importance of Roadmaps in Open Source Projects

A roadmap is a strategic plan that outlines the goals and direction of an open source project. For open source projects, having a well-defined roadmap is crucial.

  • A roadmap provides a clear vision and purpose for the project, helping contributors understand the project’s objectives and direction. This clarity motivates them to work towards common goals.
  • Roadmaps may aid project management. They may be leveraged to set priorities, allocate resources, and coordinate efforts. When used effectively, they ensure that development tasks are well-organized and yield meaningful outcomes in a consistent, transparent manner.
  • With many feature requests and contributions, roadmaps help prioritize tasks based on their importance and alignment with project goals. This keeps development efforts focused on key areas.
  • Publishing the roadmap to the projects repo could attract and retain contributors by highlighting ongoing and planned efforts, enabling contributors to identify areas and times when their skills fit into the project’s planned work.
  • Roadmaps foster trust by offering transparency into development plans and progress, ensuring contributors feel confident in the project’s management and also good to guide the users and downstream adoptions. Users and organizations can receive advanced notifications about upcoming developments, enabling them to strategically devise their individualized utilization strategies for the software.
  • Roadmaps may allow the project to align its development activities with adopter, user, and contributor feedback, enhancing the overall experience for everyone.
  • Roadmaps help projects adapt to changes in the open source landscape by incorporating feedback and addressing new challenges.
  • Roadmaps facilitate proactive identification and mitigation of potential challenges, enabling the project to navigate risks effectively.
  • Roadmaps facilitate the efficient distribution of available resources, preventing overextension of limited resources and ensuring tasks receive appropriate time and attention.
  • Roadmaps enable long-term sustainability allow the project to strategize for continuous growth and evolution, considering factors such as maintenance, community engagement, and shifting technology trends.
  • Roadmaps play a crucial role in capturing and communicating strategic planning for projects. They provide a clear direction for adopters, contributors, and stakeholders, outlining the project’s direction, timeline, and execution strategy, which are essential for project success.

Understanding Roadmaps in Open Source Projects

A roadmap in an open source project is a strategic plan that outlines the project’s vision, goals, and major milestones over a specific period. It serves as a navigational guide for project contributors, developers, and stakeholders, helping them understand the project’s trajectory and how their efforts align with the larger objectives. Roadmaps come in various forms, tailored to meet the unique needs of different open source projects. It’s important to note that multiple kinds of roadmaps may be in use with in a single project to address various needs, ensuring flexibility and adaptability within the community. Understanding the types and components of roadmaps is essential for effective project management and successful collaboration within the community.

Types of Roadmaps

Feature Roadmaps: Feature roadmaps focus on outlining upcoming features and enhancements planned for the project. They help prioritize and communicate the development of new functionalities, enabling contributors to align their efforts accordingly.

Release Roadmaps: Release roadmaps outline the schedule and content for upcoming project releases. They detail the features and bug fixes expected in each release, providing a clear timeline for contributors and users.

Technology Roadmaps: Technology roadmaps highlight the adoption of new technologies or improvements to existing infrastructure within the project. They ensure the project stays up-to-date with the latest tools and frameworks.

Non-Code Project Roadmaps: Non-code project roadmaps, such as those found in organizations like CNCF (Cloud Native Computing Foundation), focus on broader strategies and initiatives beyond code development. These roadmaps may include plans for community growth, documentation improvements, event organization, and other non-code-related objectives. They serve as guiding documents for strategic decision-making and resource allocation in non-code projects.

Components of a Typical Roadmap

  • Goals and Objectives: Roadmaps begin by clearly defining the project’s long-term goals and specific objectives for each roadmap period. This establishes a shared understanding of the project’s mission.
  • Milestones and Timelines: Roadmaps include key milestones and their respective timelines, allowing contributors to track progress and plan their efforts accordingly.
  • Features and Enhancements: For feature roadmaps, a detailed list of upcoming features and enhancements is provided. This helps contributors understand the focus areas for the project.
  • Contributors and Assignments: Roadmaps may assign contributors or teams to specific tasks, fostering accountability and facilitating efficient project management.

Understanding the nature of roadmaps in open source projects equips contributors and stakeholders with the necessary knowledge to collaborate effectively, meet project objectives, and create successful software solutions for the benefit of the entire open source community.

Developing a Roadmap for My Open Source Project

Creating a well-structured and organized roadmap for your open source project is a crucial step in outlining its vision and driving its success. By engaging with your project’s community, you can effectively engage contributors, prioritize tasks, and align your project with the needs of the people using the project. Here are practical tools and methods to guide you in developing an effective roadmap:

Well-Structured and Organized GitHub Organization and Repositories: Before delving into roadmap planning, ensure that your GitHub organization and repositories are well-structured and organized. This foundation will set the stage for a seamless development process and make it easier for contributors to navigate and understand your project’s codebase. Ensure that the README in each repository clearly states the purpose and objectives of that specific repository. Look at the repository from the perspective of someone who has never seen it before. Is it evident what the repository is about, and does the file structure facilitate easy navigation of project components? Repositories often require spring cleaning and organizing to maintain clarity and efficiency.

Contributor Discussions and Consensus: Engage with your user community through community meetings in order to involve your contributors in roadmap planning through discussions and seeking consensus. You can also make use of surveys, polls, and community forums. Gathering user feedback early on will help you understand their needs and preferences, which can guide your roadmap decisions and ensure your project remains user-centric. By fostering open dialogues, you can gain insights into their perspectives and ideas, fostering a sense of ownership and collective vision for the project.

Roadmapping Workshops: Conduct roadmapping workshops with key stakeholders, contributors, and maintainers. In these collaborative sessions, brainstorm ideas, set objectives, and prioritize tasks. These workshops offer an excellent opportunity to collectively shape the roadmap’s direction. Conducting regular Roadmapping Workshops during the initial months of the project, approximately every 6 weeks, would establish the community’s tone and shared vision, fostering iteration and enhancement. Additionally, an annual review of the project roadmap, reflecting on the past year and anticipating the next, would also be recommended.

Project Boards and automation: Leverage GitHub Project Boards to visually organize tasks, issues, and milestones. By creating a clear workflow with automation and issue linking, you can streamline project management and make it easier for contributors to track progress.

Using Github Project Boards as a Roadmap Tool:

  • Project Boards provide a centralized platform for managing and organizing tasks, issues, and milestones related to an open source project.
  • Project Boards offer a visual representation of the roadmap, allowing contributors to easily grasp the project’s progress, priorities, and upcoming tasks.
  • Project Boards can be customized to match the specific workflow of the project, enabling teams to create columns, labels, and categories that align with their development process.
  • With the ability to categorize and prioritize tasks, contributors can focus on essential features or bug fixes, ensuring that the most critical items are addressed first.
  • Project Boards promote collaboration by allowing team members to comment, update, and discuss tasks directly on the board, fostering better communication and coordination.
  • Project Boards are tightly integrated with Issues and Pull Requests, enabling seamless tracking of progress and linking relevant work items to the roadmap.
  • Effective use of labels and milestones can be used to further categorize and group tasks, making it easier to manage complex projects with multiple components.
  • Tasks can be assigned to specific team members, ensuring clear ownership and accountability for each item on the roadmap.
  • Project Automation features, like issue and pull request automation, help streamline the roadmap management process by automatically moving cards across the board based on predefined rules.
  • As contributors update their progress and complete tasks, the Project Board reflects these changes in real-time, providing an up-to-date view of the project’s status.
  • By making the Project Board public, open source projects can increase transparency, allowing the community to follow the development progress and provide valuable feedback.
  • Project Boards retain historical data, making it possible to review past roadmaps, evaluate project performance, and learn from previous development cycles.

A well-organized Project board, is a powerful magnet for attracting contributors to an open source organization. It communicates professionalism, vision, and transparency, while also simplifying the onboarding process and encouraging collaboration. By consistently triaging and grooming issues in bi-weekly community meetings the organization can ensure that the board remains streamlined and relevant, showcasing the organization’s commitment to impactful development. By investing in clarity and openness, open source organizations can build a vibrant community of contributors who are inspired to actively engage. Through these concerted efforts, organizations can effectively propel their projects to new heights of success while fostering an atmosphere of continuous improvement and innovation.

Google Sheets or Excel: These are versatile tools for developing a straightforward and easily customizable roadmap for your open source project. With these spreadsheet applications, you can organize tasks and set milestones in a structured format, allowing for clear visualization and efficient planning. The simplicity of these tools enables seamless sharing and collaboration with your team, ensuring everyone stays informed and aligned with the project’s progress. Whether you prefer the cloud-based convenience of Google Sheets or the familiarity of Excel, both options provide a practical and accessible way to create and maintain a well-defined roadmap for your open source project.

Graphical presentations: Utilizing graphical presentations in repositories to demonstrate work relationships is a powerful approach in open source projects. By incorporating diagrams, charts, or visualizations, projects can effectively depict the interdependencies and connections between various tasks, issues, and milestones. Graphical representations enhance comprehension and communication, offering contributors and stakeholders a clear view of the project’s structure and progress. Whether using flowcharts to outline workflows, Gantt charts to illustrate timelines, or network diagrams to depict dependencies, these visual aids foster better coordination and decision-making. Such graphical presentations not only promote transparency but also strengthen collaboration, ultimately leading to more efficient and successful open source project management.

Continuous Review and Iteration: Remember that roadmaps are living documents. Regularly review and update your roadmap based on new information and community feedback. Embrace an iterative approach to adapt to changing circumstances and stay relevant.

By integrating these tools and methods in your roadmap development, you can create a comprehensive and actionable plan for your open source project. A well-structured roadmap not only guides your project’s development but also fosters a strong and engaged community, leading to the long-term success of your endeavor.

Roadmapping Challenges and Innovative Solutions

While a roadmap steers this journey, there will be challenges. Recognizing and creatively addressing these issues empowers projects to navigate toward sustained success and community growth. Here are a few factors to consider.

Embracing the Bus Factor: In open source projects, the “ bus factor” poses a real challenge. Relying heavily on a few key contributors can lead to vulnerability. To safeguard against this, projects can encourage knowledge sharing and collaborative decision-making. This can transform the community from a reliance on individuals to a collective powerhouse of expertise and contribution.

Sculpting Dynamic Roadmaps: A roadmap is a dynamic tool that reflects the project’s direction. However, the challenge of keeping it fresh and relevant is real. Regular roadmap review sessions, involving the community in interactive discussions, can breathe life into the roadmap. This not only ensures accuracy but also strengthens the sense of ownership, keeps it relevant and encourages participation among contributors.

The Art of Prioritization: Choosing between feature requests is akin to curating a gallery of ideas. The challenge is balancing requests with the project’s vision. Transparent communication channels can bridge this gap by explaining decisions and fostering compromise. This transforms the challenge into an opportunity for meaningful dialogue and collaboration.

Harmonizing Diverse Voices: An open source community thrives on diversity, but divergent opinions can sometimes muffle progress. Creating spaces for inclusive conversations empowers contributors to find common ground. By cultivating a sense of unity through discussions, voting, and consensus-building, the challenge of community alignment can be transformed into a shared triumph.

Discourage Cookie Licking: In a world of shared contributions, “ cookie licking” stands as an obstacle to collective growth. Transparent platforms can track contributions, making accountability clear. This deters the practice and encourages a culture of proactive collaboration.

Overcome Stalled Progress: Stalled progress can halt a project and be discouraging to contributors. Introducing focused “innovation sprints” can breathe new life into stagnant tasks, rekindling momentum and steering the project forward.

Trimming Roadmap Bloat: In the pursuit of innovation, roadmap bloat can hinder progress. Regular “spring cleaning” sessions that involve the community can pare down the roadmap to its essential elements, ensuring clarity and focus.

Trap of Off-Roadmap Initiatives: As tempting as uncharted innovations may be, off-roadmap pursuits can lead the project astray. By implementing a structured evaluation process for these initiatives, projects can stay true to their core mission while embracing new ideas. If it fits the project, add it to the roadmap.

By meeting these challenges head-on with creative solutions, open source projects can transform obstacles into stepping stones, propelling their project towards new achievements.


Roadmaps in open source projects are a critical component for success, guiding developers, contributors, and stakeholders toward common goals. With a well-defined roadmap, projects gain clarity and direction, motivating contributors to work together towards a shared vision. Prioritization and effective project management become achievable, ensuring resources are allocated wisely for meaningful outcomes. Transparently sharing the roadmap fosters trust and attracts contributors by showcasing ongoing efforts and future opportunities for involvement. Additionally, aligning development with user needs and adapting to changing circumstances become possible through continuous review and iteration. By utilizing practical tools like GitHub Project Boards, Google Sheets, and graphical presentations, open source projects can create comprehensive roadmaps that drive collaboration, engagement, and progress within the community.

Last modified August 24, 2023: add strategic planning point (5d555d3)