Why the UK Government’s COVID-19 roadmap visuals fall short and how they can immediately be made bet

I’m not a doctor, scientist or politician, but I do know a thing or two about creating an effective roadmap. Especially using Aha!.

In this piece I’m going to highlight the shortcomings of the approach the Government has taken to illustrating its COVID-19 recovery strategy to the general public and the things it can do right now to make it better. 

I hope they’re listening and I hope a little bit of roadmap optimisation in the future can help us all to get a clearer picture of what lies ahead.

The latest COVID-19 roadmap is a missed opportunity

The UK Government announced its roadmap for how and when the UK will adjust its response to the COVID-19 crisis on 10 May.

It was a 60 page document, yet for many of us the image of the roadmap below is all we’ll typically see (or remember). That is why it’s so important to pay attention to how this version can be improved.

The UK Government’s actual roadmap illustration as of 10 May, 2020
The UK Government’s actual roadmap illustration as of 10 May, 2020

At a minimum a roadmap should perform two main functions. It should:

  • Represent a plan, defining a set of strategic outcomes and the major steps, activities or milestones needed to achieve them.

  • Serve as a communication tool, aligning stakeholders around the “why”, setting expectations on the timeframes (the “when”) and detailing the activities for getting there (the “what”).

When you look at the UK Government’s roadmap above in this context, it tells a story of missed opportunities.

Strategic Vision - The “Why”

  • Remove the graph. The Infection Rate, R, does not reflect the past (it has previously been well over 1) and is aspirational for the future.

  • Show the strategy or goals on the roadmap itself. People need to be clear on exactly what we are aiming for and why.

  • The big focus of the roadmap is reducing R but it is only a single metric of only one of the goals. This is not the big picture.

  • The “5 Tests” for determining the alert level are actually the strategic goals:

  1. Making sure the NHS can cope

  2. A ‘sustained and consistent’ fall in the daily death rate

  3. Rate of infection decreasing to ‘manageable levels’

  4. Ensuring supply of tests and PPE can meet future demand

  5. Being confident any adjustments would not risk a second peak that would overwhelm the NHS

  • Each of these goals should meet the definitions of a SMART objective (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound). They should be clearly stated so that people understand what needs to be done and how we will measure success.

Timelines - The “When”

  • Given the fluid nature of the pandemic I think the visualisation is fair. However, various other sources of supporting information mention “dates” but don’t appear on the x-axis. We should be able to see this information on the illustration so there’s one source of the truth here. Anything else risks dilution of the message and causing confusion.

  • The various steps in the Government plan are similar to those of a stage-gate process. This means that each step should have defined entry criteria that must be satisfied in order to enter that step/phase. The entry criteria for each step can either tie back to a series of goals with reducing success metric levels or each step specifies a certain percentage change of the single goal that must be achieved. These thresholds for each goal should be clearly defined and shown on the roadmap so it is clear what preconditions must be met to enter each step.

  • The vertical lines on the graph indicate that only a reduction in R is enough for the UK to enter each step and adjust measures. This is not the case.

Measures - The “What”

This is the worst part of the roadmap, in my opinion. 

  • The measures must be clearly documented (even if at a high level) and shown directly on the roadmap. 

  • The images / iconography adds visual interest but does nothing for clarity.

  • Each measure should link back to the goals they contribute towards, either on the roadmap or in the documentation. People need to see a direct correlation between what they are being asked to do and how it contributes towards the goal. This makes it easier for them to feel empowered and motivated that they can make a difference.

I’ve done a quick mockup of the government roadmap in my favourite roadmapping tool, Aha!.

For illustration purposes I have deliberately only added a few measures and linked one of the measures back to the three goals it aligns to.

There. Isn't that better?

Clear roadmaps and a single version of the truth are so important. Done well, they motivate and align entire thousands of people within a company. Done poorly and they can confuse an entire country.

I’m hoping we see more clarity in the next version.

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