Product and technology road maps are a graphical representation of the sequence and timing of initiatives or projects contained in the product development strategies. We have heard confusing information from different practitioners and consultants that road maps are strategy.
We would like to clarify that road maps are not strategy, but rather a graphical representation of product strategies.
Unfortunately, we commonly see practitioners racing to building the road maps without the necessary product strategies to back it up.
When done correctly, road maps are particularly effective in widespread communication of organizational priorities, and they also support forecasting of skills and technologies to be acquired to meet strategic goals.
Phaal describes road maps as displaying the ‘why,’ ‘what,’ ‘when’ and ‘how’ (3W1H) of the product and technology strategies . We find the 3W1H approach as being particularly helpful to our clients when they are new to roadmaps. Remember, you should have your product strategy components defined before executing this exercise. Find a high-level overview of the approach below:
1. Identifying Market Opportunities (the ‘why’ and ‘when’)
The usual place to start is with identifying market opportunities (the ‘why’). This requires the customary investigation of trends; customer needs and wants, competitive activity, business strategies, etc. to find lucrative opportunities and the evaluation of those opportunities against business strategy and competencies. Next, it is necessary to identify required market timing (the ‘when’) for any opportunities worth pursuing and note any other milestones that impact the timing of market entry.
2. Identify the Best Product Concepts (the ‘what’)
The next step identifies those products whose delivery takes advantage of the market opportunities, (the ’what’). This is your new product strategy. In this step, you identify the best product concepts and determine what it will take to develop and launch them. It is important to identify any new technologies that must be acquired (internally or externally), as well as any new skills, distribution channels, suppliers, etc.
3. Identify the Required Time and Resources (the ‘how’)
Finally, estimate the total resources needed, new attributes that must be developed (technologies, skills, channels, suppliers, etc.), and the overall time required.
You now have all the elements needed to create your road map.
Suppose you have identified an existing, unmet need in the marketplace that you believe you can satisfy profitably. Your major distributor issues its annual catalog in May, and your aim is to have your new product included in that catalog, so your deadline for product samples and descriptions is March.
It will take 5 months to develop the new product. Your existing technologies can be used to create this first-generation product, but an exciting new technology currently undergoing testing by engineering will allow you to create a second-generation product that can be targeted to other niches. This new technology is expected to be available in December of next year. This very simple example yields the following road map:
One helpful feature of road maps is their ability to represent dependencies over time. Suppose it takes 6 months to develop that first product, the road map would allow you to see that you might not have samples in time for your distributor and you need to find ways to speed up development.
Road maps also allow you to see where you might miss opportunities. In the above example, the product for the second market opportunity is available more than a year after the opportunity is available. This could be too late; in which case, another technology option should be considered.
To learn more about product roadmaps, listen to the Product Roadmap NPD-Byte (3:09).
 “Customizing Road mapping” Phaal, et al. (Research – Technology Management, March/April 2004).