A Roadmapping Toolkit?

May 13, 2008

Roadmap slide example from the Roadmapping Toolkit
Thanks to Google’s targeted ads, I stumbled into The Product Roadmapping Toolkit from the 280 Group today. According to the site:

* Create more effective and compelling roadmaps

* Save time with PowerPoint & Excel templates

* Learn about and use different types of roadmaps

I haven’t seen the $99 kit yet so I can’t comment directly, but from the look of the slide examples, I think most of this is freely available on the web already. The 280 Group definitely shows they see roadmaps as more than just a single document or chart, so I’m with them on that point. I suppose the online training, the tips & examples and with the rest of the package could be worth the money for someone who’s been thrust into the role of leading a roadmapping effort, and needs to show quick results.

If nothing else, I think this is a good sign that roadmapping as a planning process has caught on now enough to qualify it as a standard business practice. I’d love to read more feedback though from anyone who has purchased this kit and as always, your thoughts are greatly appreciated.


Roadmapping Robots

April 24, 2008

Manufacturing Robot

Here’s an interesting new web site showing a new roadmapping effort just starting up. The Computing Community Consortium intends to create an industry roadmap for the future of commercial (i.e., non-military) robotics in America.

From the site:

In a world where significant changes are expected in terms of competitiveness and aging it is essential that society has access to key technologies for automated manufacturing, assistive healthcare and domestic services for independent living. Consequently there is a need to carefully consider how the USA can ensure availability of these technologies in a 5-15 year perspective.

It’s too early to know how well this will work for these folks but as more industries take this approach, I think we’ll see better planning overall. I wish them luck in their endeavor.

(Thanks to 12fh from flickr for the CC-licensed image shown)

When to Launch

February 27, 2008

In the world of new product development, when to launch is always a tough call. If you are too early, the market may not be ready for your innovation but if you’re too late, the market may have matured to the point where prices are already dropping and so profits could disappear.

When to launch?

This interesting article on the web site of British newspaper, the Telegraph, describes research by two Germans who looked into this. Their conclusion? It’s all about the timing.

Their main finding was that the timing of innovations will generally only be optimised if the entire innovation process, from the initial idea to the market introduction, is oriented around the time factor. The two researchers developed a planning approach based on three methods – priority planning, roadmapping and the real option approach. The methods are not new, but they have become an indispensable means of innovation management for dynamic firms.

The particular value of roadmapping lies in its ability to demonstrate how individual technologies initially build on one another and then supersede each other over time. A good road map will take into account the future development of all technologies that are relevant to the company. The process generally entails close co-operation with suppliers of various different technical components. The researchers concede that predicting future customer needs is anything but easy.

So, integrating your new product development plans with your roadmaps makes sense. Or to put it another way, expressing those plans as roadmaps is one way you can head-off potential problems with the timing of your product launches. I think there are a lot of assumptions in that idea, such as that your roadmaps are complete — they take into account your understanding of the market forces at work, your own technology and product development, plus that of your partners and suppliers. That’s certainly where I see enterprises getting the real “aha” moment out of building the roadmap. It’s only when you put all those ideas together on one shared time line that you can start to make really well informed decisions. In that sense, a good roadmap almost puts itself together.

And as I’ve said before on this site, the process of putting together a good roadmap enables better decision making. If you can build a roadmap of your product plans, including all of the marketing, product and technology data you have at your disposal, you will know when the right time to push the product out into the world is. If you can marry the results of your roadmapping practice with other forms of analysis, including the Real Option approach for getting the financials just right, so much the better.

Note: Image used courtesy of this Flickr user and the CC license. Thanks!

Innovation and Emotions

February 18, 2008

I came across this interesting post on the role of emotions in product planning on the Consultaglobal blog today. the author writes about how product designers and planners should be factoring people’s emotional connections to the product into their planning.

The most relevant part of the post to this blog’s readers should be this bit:

Amazingly enough, many designers I worked with rarely look at product roadmapping, meaning that they would not spend enough time figuring out how products evolve through successive releases and how that relates to the product’s actual design:

* keeping or dropping features
* improving upon existing features
* enabling features driven by adjacent and unsuspected use cases
* adding new features

As a result, cramming a lot of features into first product releases and mission creep have become well known innovation pitfalls.

I couldn’t agree more, of course. Roadmapping is one small part of the overall planning cycle, but I believe its key for any organization with more than a couple of projects in the works at any one time. That’s especially trued for any company whose products involve a high-tech element. We don’t usually include the emotional context of a product in its plans but I can see where doing so might improve the overall results. I suppose this is just another piece in the puzzle that will soon be commonly understood to define successful product launches.

roadmap.jpgThe Product Strategy Network seems to be a group with the right idea. This page has tips you can use to guide your organization’s roadmapping practice, whether you’re just starting to think about it or have been in the trenches for years already. I agree with everything written here except:

…the product roadmapping process a company uses can be as important to its business as the roadmap itself
The process is actually the most important part. The roadmap generated by the process is useful but much less so though than the benefits your group receives from the collaboration and communication roadmapping can facilitate.

Secure staff buy-in to the roadmap through participation rather than relying on top-down enforcement to achieve compliance.
While I agree that no initiative can be totally driven from the top-down, in my experience you need more than buy-in from the people on whom the roadmap’s content will depend. A job requirement, including making the successful completion of a roadmap part of each participant’s annual review, is usually also a good idea. Absent that, it is inevitable that the other priorities that are required and evaluated at review time will take precedent. This is obviously not appropriate for every member of the group, but for key stakeholders and those chosen to maintain and manage the roadmaps and the process surrounding them.

If your company is young or creating a new, innovative product, roadmap updates can be as frequently as once a week.
Actually, in my opinion, it is the young innovative company that really doesn’t need a roadmap. They need to be fast, agile and willing to change and making everyone sit through frequent planning meetings would be really bad. I’m not saying long-term planning is bad for these types of operations, but I do believe too much planning could stifle the creativity and innovation they’re supposed to be pushing for.

Also, if the entire group of participants involved will be less than 20 or so people, I’d even question the need for an internally facing roadmap. We usually consider 20 + as the minimum number of people to be involved for a roadmapping process to make sense. Any fewer and they are probably going to be able to manage the planning and communication that roadmapping offers with simple tools and the water cooler network.

As I wrote above, everything else I read here is good advice. Read the other articles and check out their workshops for more on the PSN. In the spirit of good disclosure, I am not affiliated with them and have never directly tried their services. I don’t even know anyone there, yet. 🙂

Roadmapping for Tourism

July 12, 2007

I believe it’s safe to say that Roadmapping is well established as a strategic planning process when you find it being used in places like the Metro Iloilo and Guimaras areas in the Philippines. This article from a local newspaper’s site describes in good detail how the local tourism board got together to plan it’s goals and how it would achieve them.

Here’s a quote:

In a recent workshop held with project proponents, a roadmap was drawn expected to bring a shared understanding of the project concepts. Shared understanding that will translate to better management of the project and ultimately, attainment of the deliverables or expected project results.

Participants from various government agencies, local government units and partners in the private sector worked on getting firsthand knowledge on tourism strategic directions and infrastructure strategic directions as strategy maps were then validated.

The documents they prepared can be found on their web site.

From the sound of things, they included other process as well like balanced scorecard. I wish I could say my small town here in the states was this proactive in planning for the future. Way to go, Iloilo!

Roadmapping & Innovation

June 29, 2007

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC In a nice long post over at Accelerating Innovation, Egils Milbergs writes about the state of manufacturing in America and the promise for improvement he sees with the upcoming arrival of a new Presidential administration. Among quite a few nice points, he includes this about the potential of technology roadmapping:

Technology Roadmapping and Federal Research Priorities. Technology roadmaps represent a consensus regarding industry direction and research needs, innovation trajectories, alternative scenarios and the possibility of disruptive technologies and surprises. Industry associations and sector based collaborations are making greater use of technology roadmapping methodologies as an input to the federal R&D priority setting process as well as inputs to their own innovation planning. Roadmapping exercises can provide the basis for public and private investments in radically new production systems.

I couldn’t agree more and there can be little doubt that there’s a ton of room for improvement in way things have been done in Washington DC. In roadmapping practices, we talk all the time about the power of the process to break down silos (the barriers to communication that form in any large organization). Getting industries and the federal government to work together would be a great example of this in action.

As the author writes, one other aspect of roadmapping that needs to be emphasized is its ability to help an organization see the future with more clarity. I’ve sat in on many great workshops where a group of people who are not used to thinking out more beyond the next couple of years are asked to envision where their group should be 5 or 10 or more years from today. Once they get used to the concept, they really start to enjoy themselves. They realize they can play a critical part in defining the future of their company and that’s really powerful. Its this kind of event that is really needed today in government if we expect to stay competitive in the new world of the 21st century.

Do I believe that blog posts like this one or Egils’ will change anything? No; there are a lot of reasons for why the system works the way it does today. But there is hope as long as someone out there is pushing. Please read all of Egils’ post to see why “innovation” can be more than just this year’s enterprise buzzword.

Small Times, a magazine for micro- and nano-scale manufacturers, has this recent story about how the industry needs to do more integration and standardization. There is a lot there that would only be interesting to a nanotech researcher, but this paragraph caught my eye:

Pointing to the chip making industry as “a good model to use,” MEMS industry consultant Roger Grace declared, “We need to learn from past experiences, we have to build on what we know.” The creation and implementation of industry standards, support of R&D efforts, roadmapping, and establishment of a dedicated equipment, metrology, and packaging supplier infrastructure were among the lessons that nanomanufacturers could learn from the semiconductor community, according to Grace.

As more and more industries see the success that the semi-con guys have had with their roadmaps (www.itrs.net) you will start to see the value of roadmapping appreciated in surprising new places. Right now it’s still very much about high technology planning, but the sky is the limit really, in my opinion.

AKA: The History of Roadmapping (you might also want to read part 1)

As this page very nicely says, “Technology roadmapping, in some form or other, has been around for hundreds of years.” In other words, wherever you find a group of people trying to make sure their plans are all well-aligned, you have a roadmapping process. The information in that description is a few years out of date now, but the message is still a good one. Roadmapping is just good planning and as the history in that story is told, Motorola has been doing it longer than pretty much everyone else.

Back in the mid-1980’s Bob Galvin, then CEO, wanted to know what everyone was working on. Not in the mind-numbing detail sense, but in the high-level general sense that would give him a way to quickly determine where potential overlaps and other problems might lay. He initiated the idea that “everyone should have a roadmap” and recommended that they should all share their roadmaps with everyone else. That’s not how things worked out, but that’s OK.*

As Motorola worked out its own internal roadmapping process over the next few years, the idea started to spread to other corporations and organizations. Around the mid-90’s there was enough experience out there for the academic world to start investigating the claims of improving your product marketing results by better planning through roadmapping. Robert Phaal, Clare Farrukh and David Probert (and others at Cambridge University) wrote what are now considered the seminal papers on this subject and came up with their own universal approach, known as the T-Plan. This was the first time anyone could learn the roadmapping process in a generalized sense and apply it to their own organization.

The idea started to catch on even faster at this point and you started to see numerous organizations use the R word to describe their published plans. The most well-known now is probably the association of semi-conductor manufacturers roadmap known officially as the, International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors. In each annual edition that has been released since 2000, this group of chip makers and others does its best to predict what the next 15 years will look like for their industry. There are only a few charts or graphs in the document, but there are lots of facts and figures.

This brings us to today then. The word roadmap has now taken on a much broader definition, as evidenced in its use by people such as US President George Bush (“Roadmap for Peace in the Middle East“). If you search for “technology roadmap” you will find any number of types of documents ranging from long text-based statements such as the ITRS plan mentioned above to power point presentations with vague arrows indicating plans for some undefined “future”. These are all valid roadmaps, defined to the extent that they served their purpose for their authors.

What’s important then is not the document, but the process the organization went through to create the document. If they did it right, these groups should have had any number of “Aha!” moments when marketing, product management and technology leaders put their heads together to derive these plans.

That’s it for this time. In Part three, I intend to write about what makes a good roadmapping proecss and so a good roadmap. Hopefully, these three parts will get us off on the right foot for all the more interesting discussions to come. As always, please comment on anything and everything here that strikes your fancy.


*The idea was still a good one, especially when you understand that within any large organization there is a LOT of competition. People build up “silo’s” between themselves and other departments/functions in order to protect whatever resources they have collected for their own use. More on this in the near future.

Depending on how you found this site, you may or may not be wondering what roadmapping is. Let me break it down for you. You know how whenever you’re planning to take a long trip in the car to a place you’ve never been before, you pretty much have to have a map? Without that map, you would almost certainly get lost, or at least, take a lot longer than you should to get to your destination. Now imagine how important that map would be if you were trying to find a way to get 50 teams of 50 people each to all meet up at a destination that none of them had ever been to before and the future of your company depends on the success of that operation.

Well, that’s what enterprise-scale product planning is like today and that’s why roadmapping has become an important part of many companies’ planning processes. With a carefully constructed product and technology roadmap, you can be sure that, at least as of today, you know where you’re headed and how you intend to get there. Now you may be thinking here that there are a LOT of existing processes that help manage product and technology planning such as Portfolio Management, Stage Gate, Balanced Scorecard and so on. How is roadmapping different from these other well established disciplines?

The answer is that a roadmap looks at your plans, from which markets you want to be in, and which products you will sell into those markets, down to which technologies you will be building/buying in order to offer those products — expressed on a time line. In other words, most all other well-developed planning and management processes allow you to understand how your many many products and R&D efforts compare but they ignore the element of time. Also, they tend to be focused on “what we are doing”, as opposed to “what are we going to be doing”. In other words, they focus on today, not tomorrow.

So, portfolio management software vendors claims to the contrary, most of the time, their tools are used to compare projects that you’ve already decided to fund, right? Project Management is completely operational, of course. That’s why roadmapping fills a niche that’s really not otherwise covered today. A mature, well-developed roadmapping process, with (I hate to say it but) cross-functional participation and cooperation, allows you to start planning even further out into time than you could otherwise. It gives you as firm a basis as is possible on which to start defining your future, today.

In the next installment in this series, I will talk about the history of roadmapping and how it is used today by companies like Motorola, Corning, Boeing and others. Thanks for reading this far. Please please please provide any feedback you like on where you’d like to see this conversation go next.

Lastly, if you’re a person who loves details and wants them now, you might find reading the Technology Roadmapping page at Wikipedia to your liking.