Like a road map guides you to your destination, a development map guides employees along their development journey. Simply stated, a development map provides a picture of the learning and development (L&D) experiences necessary to move from one level of job performance to the next.

Looked at another way, each level of performance is a common destination, and is an outcome to be achieved by all members of the role. And because each employee brings unique experiences, knowledge and skill to the role, development maps are adaptable to the employee, with the potential for unique, individualized journeys from one outcome to the next.

When designed well, development maps balance the various needs and goals of the business, the L&D function, and the employee. Creating a development map is an opportunity for business leaders and L&D to work together to look holistically at a role and to identify and optimize the sequence of learning needed to achieve levels of job performance. It is because of this performance context that decisions about learning and development are more balanced, more economical, more efficient and more valuable to the organization and to the employees.

Elements of a Development Map 

Development maps are different than traditional training plans or course catalogs because they move beyond formal training offered in isolation to establish a comprehensive roadmap encompassing all of the developmental experiences needed to achieve a measurable performance outcome.

By naming and showing the relationship between various L&D experiences (i.e., formal learning, informal learning, on-the-job experiences, available resources, which may include job-aid libraries, intranet sites, content delivered via employee performance support systems, etc.), a development map provides a more complete and realistic roadmap to performance.

During the process of creating a development map, learning outcomes, learning modalities and learning technologies are evaluated, and decisions and tradeoffs are made to balance impact, effectiveness, and other factors in consideration of the entire development journey, which helps resist the inclination to chase the latest “shiny object.”

Optimizing the learning experience takes on different characteristics when contemplating a development journey stretched across a year or more versus when contemplating a solitary learning event. When tightly connecting performance outcomes to business goals, those considerations evolve yet again.

A development map may use different types of development events to achieve a performance outcome (e.g., informal learning, on-the-job training, formal instruction, or resources).

Well-designed development maps clearly anchor the developmental experience to performance and connect various knowledge and skill topics to job performance. Development maps answer the question, “When will I use what I’m learning?”

The first step to creating a development map is to effectively uncover and organize the performance outcomes to be achieved (from there you can define the development events needed to achieve those performance outcomes). For example, if an employee’s role requires them to troubleshoot, there may be multiple levels of performance to be achieved over some period of time.

Performance outcomes for a dimension of performance may differ in terms of the number of stages needed to achieve the performance, the timeline and the enabling/prerequisite relationships among the performance outcomes.

In most roles, one performance outcome is often a building block to more advanced performance downstream.

If the work hasn’t been done to organize the developmental journey, employees are left on their own to sort out how to use multiple training paths, lists, or checklists to navigate their way through onboarding, compliance training, soft skills training, technical skills training, etc. It can be difficult to fit all the pieces together – taking more time than is necessary, negatively impacting employee engagement and satisfaction.

While development maps provide structure, they should allow for flexibility where warranted. Using performance-based assessments can allow the learner to skip certain developmental events or jump past a performance outcome.

Much like a blueprint for a home lays out the home’s structure but doesn’t show the interior design of each room, a development map shows the overarching structure of the development journey, but doesn’t include all the instructional design details.

A development map shows relationships among development events using proximity, lines and arrows to display sequence and dependencies or connections among events.

Business Alignment

For a development map to work effectively, particularly for business leaders, it should align with business goals. When business leaders can trace the connection between their goals (both short- and long-term) and the performance outcomes depicted on the development map, it gives them confidence and bolsters their support of the training and the L&D function.

Establishing clearly defined performance outcomes and timelines is the important link back to the business goals. When creating development maps, it is necessary to work with business stakeholders and top performers in the role to capture and understand:

  • Performance dimensions
  • Performance outcomes
  • Work outcomes
  • Processes and tasks
  • Measures of quality, quantity and cost
  • Knowledge and skill requirements
  • Typical gaps

Additionally, organizational performance and financial data should be used to more fully understand the performance outcomes and to correctly organize and sequence them. As xAPI and other business intelligence capabilities continue to mature, the process for creating and maintaining development maps will evolve. 

Traditional training design processes (like ADDIE) don’t work well as a method for creating development maps. Like the process for interior design is different from the process of creating an architectural blueprint, development maps require a different approach. The focus of a development map is often the entire role and accounts for all the development and learning needs from day one to mastery of the role, and that scope requires the designer to approach the design in a different manner.

A development map allows the design team to engineer and sequence learning and development experiences – not just by linking one learning objective to the next, but by linking one aspect of the job to the next. This mindset encourages the designer to assemble the smaller building blocks of courses and experiences into larger models of learning and ultimately to performance outcomes.

In part, the process requires consideration of a wide range of developmental modalities – both formal and informal, as well as real world work experience. Along the way, tradeoff decisions must be made based on availability finite resources, budget and projected return on investment.

Tricky though it is, development maps provide an excellent opportunity to judge the value of each aspect of performance in comparison to others. Some aspects require investment while others can remain in the “figure it out on their own” category.

Benefits of a Development Map

Business leaders, the L&D function and the employee are all stakeholders who benefit from development maps.

For employees: A development map is a practical, simple to use tool that helps them stage and put a timeline to their growth in their role and in the organization. Because development maps demonstrate that the organization has done its homework, employees often see development maps as evidence of the organization’s commitment to their success and respond in kind with greater commitment and higher engagement.

For managers: For managers, a development map simplifies employee career and development planning activities by eliminating waste from the process and saving time. By using a comprehensive roadmap, managers and employees avoid scouring the organization for resources as they plan “what comes next” in the employee’s development journey. Managers are able to help employees make turn-by-turn decisions to reach their destination.

For business stakeholders: Business stakeholders can use the maps to trace the organization’s strategic and tactical goals to important performance and learning outcomes. Since performance outcomes can be traced to business goals and are evaluated using meaningful metrics, it is easier to demonstrate measurable business value. With learning outcomes set inside the context of performance, the impact of learning can more readily be determined. Invariably, when the goals and outcomes are tied to meaningful metrics and results, perceived and actual value goes up.

For L&D: Development maps also benefit the L&D function. First, they depict a common perspective shared with business stakeholders that ultimately simplifies communication with those business partners. Second, since the map can trace learning outcomes through performance outcomes to business goals, decisions regarding the comparative importance and value of development activities can be assessed, ultimately guiding L&D decisions. And third, when dealing with ad hoc training requests throughout the year, development maps can be used to judge requests based on how well the request fits (or whether the request is redundant in some way). Development maps are tools that help L&D in their role as a trusted advisor to their business partners.


When designed well, development maps unlock and improve employee performance and bring into balance the goals of the business, L&D and the learner. Aligning around business and performance, development maps provide a means and a mechanism to change the game.