Roadmaps: Creating a path to successful products and technology

Roadmapping is a tool that can be used for planning and depicting your new product and technology acquisition strategies. The output of a product-technology roadmapping exercise is a roadmap that displays market and business needs over time, along with the products, technologies and other resources required to meet those needs.

In “Customizing Roadmapping” Phaal, et al (Research – Technology Management, March/April 2004), describe roadmaps as displaying the ‘whys’, ‘whats’, ‘whens’ and ‘hows’ of the product and technology strategies.

The usual place to start is with identifying market opportunities and their timing, (the ‘whys’). 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. For the opportunities to be pursued, it is necessary to identify when the opportunity is worth pursuing, and note any other milestones that impact the timing of market entry.

The next step identifies those products whose delivery takes advantage of the market opportunities, (the’whats’). 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. For each product concept, identify how long development will take.

Finally, identify how much time is required for all the resources (the ‘hows’) that must be developed (technologies, skills, channels, suppliers, etc.).

You now have all the elements needed to create your roadmap.

An Example:

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 spotlights exciting new products in the front pages. Your aim is to have your new product ready to go in time to be included in that catalog, so your deadline for product samples is March. It will take 5 months to develop the new product and have your first samples ready. 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 of the product that can be targeted to other niches. T his new technology is expected to be available in December of next year. This very simple example yields the following roadmap:

One helpful feature of roadmaps is their ability to represent dependencies over time. Suppose it takes 6 months to develop that first product, the roadmap 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. Roadmaps 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 becomes available. This could be too late, in which case another technology option should be considered.