Before the time of GPS, Siri, and map applications, we used to consult road maps to plan trips. I still like to look at a paper map or wide scale view of a city so that I have the “big picture” in mind when I travel. Road maps give me the destination, milestones comment and alternate paths.
Technology road maps are similar yet are used in new product development (NPD) and innovation to plan R&D programs. While a physical road map gives a traveler insight to museums or attractions along the way, a technology road map provides an innovation team opportunities for dialogue and cross-functional communication.
What is a Technology Road Map?
The figure here is an example of a technology road map. Key components of a road map are the timeline (shown on the horizontal axis) and activities of the cross-functional teams (shown here as R&D, external contributors, marketing , and the formal NPD team).
Each sub-team has activities or tasks that require completion in order to achieve success for the product launch. This particular organization has four milestones, shown as vertical lines in the technology road map, with the last milestone representing product launch. Both the R&D and formal NPD teams have continuous work throughout the project timeline while the external contributors and marketing deliver specific items at given points in time.
For example, the external contributor may be a joint university program that delivers fundamental data, such as chemical formulations, strength and tensile tests, or social science studies of a target market. Similarly, the marketing function delivers key information at specific times. Significant marketing information includes customer insights, needs prioritization, and end-user testing. Note that some organizations will split the marketing and NPD team elements from the technology road map into a separate chart called the “product road map”. There are advantages and disadvantages to merging the technology and product road maps into a single planning document or to keeping them separate. These decisions are based on organizational structure and work habits.
Benefits of Roadmapping for NPD
As indicated, a key benefit in creating the technology road map is dialogue and communication among cross-functional representatives involved in the innovation project. Discussion of the schedule (timeline) and required interactions increases participant buy-in. Everyone understands what they need to do and when it must be done.
Following a technology road map for innovation also helps the team maintain focus. While a technology road map is not the same as a detailed project plan, it does highlight the highest priority activities and connections among participants. Milestone dates are frequently tied to gate reviews or other project approvals, further focusing the innovation team on common goals and purpose.
Another outcome of using technology roadmapping is to create mutual understanding among the various cross-functional participants on the innovation team. In my experience working with dozens of different NPD projects, a lack of understanding causes product failure as much as any other element. Often different departments and functional representatives use specialized jargon to describe project activities leading to confusion and missed deadlines and/or repeated work tasks.
In building a technology road map at the start of an innovation project, all participants gain a common understanding of project goals. These include, for instance the following.
- Who is the customer?
- What needs does the customer have?
- How does our technology differ from competitors.?
- What data and information do we need to be successful?
- Which resources are critical?
- Which minimum features are required for design and development?
- When are project decisions made and by whom?
Finally, the technology road map provides a framework for how the innovation work will be completed. In the example shown above, the innovation team uses a staged-and-gated approach with gate reviews identified in conjunction with milestone completion. The innovation team can likewise use a Scrum approach or other project management method. (For more information on best practices for executing innovation projects, please see Chapter 3 of The Innovation ANSWER Book.)
Limitations of Technology Roadmapping
As with any innovation tool, there are limitations for the technology road map. It is important to note that no single tool or worksheet can counterbalance bad ideas or poor project execution. Because the technology road map is a planning tool there must be linkages to strategy and decision-making processes, such as product portfolio management, that inform the activities documented on the technology road map. Having a technology road map does not eliminate the need for proper customer research and feedback.
Other limitations of a road map include failure to resource projects and lack of management involvement. Timelines on road maps can be met only if proper resources (financial, talent, and capital) are committed to the project. Leaders using technology road maps to plan innovation projects must ensure strategic alignment and prioritization by executives for resource allocation. Involving senior management in the design and development of the technology road map increases buy-in, commitment, and alignment among other business activities within the firm.
Tools for Creating Technology Road Maps
There are a number of tools available to generate a technology road map. You can find numerous software packages online, for example. Simple road maps can be drawn on a whiteboard using sticky notes to arrange, rearrange, and prioritize important tasks. Typically, I prefer a couple of passes using hands-on, low-fidelity tools to encourage communication, buy-in, and brainstorming from the various innovation team members. At that point, transition to a software tool is appropriate for managing the road map during project implementation. Please contact me at area code 281, phone 787-2979 if you are interested in a customized road map workshop for your innovation team.
Get Started Now
There’s no time like the present to get started! If you are leading an innovation project, hold a half-day workshop with all team members and cross-functional representatives to create a technology road map. It’s okay to pause project work to make sure you are on the right track and validate the plan with the road map. Show a draft of your technology road map to senior management to verify strategic alignment and ensure adequate project resourcing. Start small to demonstrate success the utility of the technology road map – but be prepared to scale up across the organization as innovation teams realize the huge value of this tool!
You can learn more about tools and tricks for innovation leaders during my free Q&A webinar on Monday, 27 January at noon CST (register here). Don’t forget, if you have not joined 20 Days of Innovation in 2020, you are missing great daily tips and tools like this one on technology roadmapping. Register now and will catch you up!
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Building Innovation Leaders
I am inspired by writing, teaching, and coaching. I tackle life with an infusion of rigor, zeal, and faith. It brings me joy to help you build innovation leaders. Teresa Jurgens-Kowal is an experienced innovation professional with a passion for lifelong learning with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and an MBA in Computer and Information Decision Making. My credentials include PE (State of Louisiana), NPDP, PMP®, and CPEM, and I am a DiSC® certified facilitator. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or area code 281 + phone 787-3979 for more information on coaching for entrepreneurs and innovators.