Wikipedia has one of the best definitions of technical roadmapping: “A technology roadmap is a plan that matches short-term and long-term goals with specific technological solutions to help meet those goals. It is a plan that applies to a new product or process, or to an emerging technology.”
Developing a roadmap has three major uses: It helps reach a consensus about a set of needs and the technologies required to satisfy those needs; it provides a mechanism to help forecast technology developments; and it provides a framework to help plan and coordinate technology developments.”
At both the individual, corporate and industry levels, technology roadmapping helps develop consensus around needs and the technologies required to satisfy those needs; it provides a framework for planning and coordinating technology developments. This invaluable strategic planning tool enables better technology investment decisions by identifying critical technologies and/or technology gaps creating barriers to product performance targets and by identifying ways to leverage R&D investments through coordinated research activities, either within a single company or among alliance members.
However, as with any powerful tool, the potential for misuse leads to abundant dangers and can render a technology roadmap useless, or worse. Risks exist at all stages of roadmapping. Early in the process, expert opinions and market data form the foundation of the roadmap. Clearly, bias on the part of experts and/or inaccurate input data weakens this foundation. Another risk lies in focusing on the technology roadmap as a product, rather than as a process. Viewing the roadmap as a product masks many of the uncertainties associated with forecasting, while the communication about potential scenarios central to the roadmapping process generates the tool’s greatest value. Perhaps the subtlest danger from technology roadmapping lies in the potential to stifle innovation. If creative ideas deviating from the roadmap’s strategic plan never receive resources, the roadmap ultimately quashes progress and roadmap improvement.
Globally, businesses face diverse challenges that require improved focus and deeper industry and market understanding including:
- Global markets and more intensive competition
- Shorter time-to-market and product life-time
- High cost and risk of research and development
- Stakeholder demand for near-term profits
- Increasing government regulation
- Customer pressures on costs
- Increasing technology and product complexity
- Greater environmental sensitivity
Companies now focus on their presumed core competencies for the future, experience teaching them that cutting costs only impacts the bottom line in the short term. Technological innovation alone guarantees long-term growth and security.
A needs-driven technology planning process, technology roadmapping helps to identify, select, and develop technology alternatives satisfying an anticipated set of product needs. It brings together a team of experts to develop a framework for organizing and presenting critical technology planning information to support appropriate technology investment decisions and to leverage those investments.
Motorola coined the word “roadmapping” thirty years ago, with other companies and industry sectors more recently adopting roadmapping as an essential part of their strategies. While gaining popularity across the globe, many of the technology roadmaps issued thus far originate in the United States.
Uses and Benefits
At both the individual corporate and industry levels, technology roadmapping finds various applications and resulting benefits. Three major uses include:
- It supports developing consensus around needs and the technologies required to satisfy those needs.
- It provides a mechanism for helping experts forecast technology developments in targeted areas.
- It provides a framework supporting the planning and coordinating of technology developments within a company and/or an entire industry.
Information supporting improved technology investment decisions represents the primary benefit of technology roadmapping. It accomplishes this by:
- Identifying critical technologies and/or technology gaps creating barriers to product performance targets
- Identifying ways to leverage R&D investments through coordinated research activities either within a single company or among alliance members
Types of Technology Roadmaps
Three different types of technology roadmaps exist, as illustrated in Figure 1.
Industry sector roadmap: The first type of roadmap covers a major industry sector such as electronics or petroleum. Development of an industry sector roadmap involves a large number of people including users, suppliers and supporting industry groups.
Figure 1: Types of technology roadmaps.
An industry sector roadmap presents the industry’s consensus on a number of topics: a vision of the industry at a set time in the future; what new types of products (or services) markets will demand; the enabling technologies required to create those products; the feasibility of developing the needed technologies; the technological alternatives for achieving the expected results; and how to address these needs through R&D. The roadmap addresses the role of an industry’s suppliers in creating the desired future, human resource needs, governmental and non-governmental barriers, and other topics.
By focusing on common needs, companies can more effectively address critical research and collaboratively develop the foundational technologies. For example, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) Semiconductor Technology Roadmap addressed the requirements for semiconductor manufacturing and the iNEMI Technology Roadmap addressed the common needs for information products to connect to information networks. This level of technology roadmap allows industry to collaboratively develop the key underlying technologies, rather than redundantly funding the same research and underfunding or missing other important technologies.
Significant benefits accrue when a particular technology requires investment beyond resources of a single company or would take too long to develop, given the resources that an individual company could allocate. However, combining the resources across companies justifies developing the technology and consequently enhances the viability and/or advancement of the industry as a whole.
Technology-specific roadmap: These roadmaps need fewer participants and impact a narrower segment of markets, products or applications than an industry sector roadmap. Otherwise the characteristics remain similar to those of an industry sector roadmap.
Recent examples of technology-specific roadmaps include:
- Alumina technology
- New process chemistry
- Colloid and interface science
Figure 2 presents a recent technology roadmap for nano-electronics.
Figure 2: Nano-electronics roadmap.
Product roadmap: The third type, a product roadmap, generally applies to a single company and possibly their supplier chain. For example, a new smartphone, tablet computer or television for a consumer product company could provide the focus of a product roadmap. Figure 3 depicts TI’s roadmap for DSP and ARM microprocessors as a specific example.
While executed at a much smaller scale, product technology roadmaps still offer attractive benefits such as:
- Prioritize technology investment and resources
- Characterize and capture market opportunities
- Respond to competitive threats
- Identify critical technologies, skills and core competencies needed to remain competitive
Figure 3: TI Digital Signal Processor & ARM Micro-Processor Roadmap.
The technology roadmapping process conducts three phases (Figure 4): preliminary activities, the development of the roadmap, and the follow-up activities phase. Because the process is too big for one model, the phases are modeled separately. In the models no different roles are made; this is because everything is done by the participants as a group.
Figure 4: Essential roadmapping process of five stages.
Phase 1: Preliminary phase
Technology roadmaps generally attempt to answer, at some level, the questions listed in Figure 4. This process conforms to the normal brainstorming practices in widespread use. The first phase, the preliminary phase, consists of 3 steps:
- Satisfy essential conditions
- Provide leadership/sponsorship
- Define the scope and boundaries for the technology roadmap
In this phase the key decision makers must identify that they have a problem and that technology roadmapping can help them in solving the problem.
1. Satisfy essential conditions
In this step it must become clear what the conditions are (they have to be identified) and if they are not met, that somebody will take the actions necessary to meet the unmet conditions. These conditions include, for example: there must be a need for the technology roadmap, input and participation from several different parts of the organization (e.g., marketing, R&D, the strategic business units) with different planning horizon and different perspectives, and the process should be needs driven. All the conditions should be satisfied (or someone is going to take the actions necessary) in order to continue to the next step. The participants can have zero or more conditions of their own. It applies to all the conditions that they have the attribute to be met or not.
2. Provide leadership/sponsorship
Committed leadership is needed because time and effort is involved in creating the technology roadmap. Additionally, the leadership should come from one of the participants, one of them provides leadership/sponsorship. This means that the line organization must drive the process and use the roadmap to make resource allocation decisions.
3. Define the scope and boundaries for the technology roadmap
In this step, the context for the roadmap will be specified. In the company a vision should exist and it must be clear that the roadmap can support that vision. If the vision does not exist, one should be developed and clearly stated. When that is done the boundaries and the scope of the roadmap should be specified. Furthermore, the planning horizon and the level of details should be set. The scope can be further divided into the technology scope and the participation scope.
Phase 2: Development phase
The second phase, the development of the technology roadmap phase, consists of five steps:
- Identify the product or critical system that will be the focus of the roadmap
- Define desired end state and specify the major technology areas
- Specify the technology drivers and their targets, identifying technology alternatives and their timelines
- (a) Recommend and prioritize the technology alternatives that should be pursued, and (b) optimize if possible.
- Create the technology roadmap report
1. Identify the product or critical system that will be the focus of the roadmap.
This first step establishes the current position relative to the competition with market research and business intelligence, identifies gaps that might exist in the market, and identifies and quantifies principal trends and drivers establishing context for the roadmap.
Being pre-competitive, industry sector roadmaps frequently disregard the current competitive environment and instead emphasize historical market trends.
2. Define the desired end state.
- Business objectives (not just strategy or goals, but quantifiable objectives)
- Functional needs
- High impact business processes or cycles
- Organization (current operating model)
- Cost and complexity drivers
- Business and technical assets (some call these artifacts)
The second stage articulates aspirations for the future. New products, processes, and services get defined in some detail. Some better examples I expect would include:
3. Specify the technology drivers and their targets, identifying technology alternatives and their timelines.
- Performance targets (cash flow, profitability, velocity (cycle or PCE), growth, customer intimacy)
- Operating model improvements
- Guiding principals
Begin to evaluate the delta between who we realistically are, and what we truly want to become. Armed with a clear understanding of where we are and where we want to be, the actionable activities begin to fall out and become evident. Gap closure strategies can then begin to be discussed, shared, and resolved into any number of possibilities usually involving the following initiatives:
- Architectural (technology)
- Reward or economic incentives
4a. Recommend and prioritize the technology alternatives that should be pursued
This is usually driven (in a technology roadmap) by evaluating the relative business value and the technical complexity, plotting the results in a quadrant graph of some kind. It is critical here that the stakeholders are engaged in the collection of the data points and they are keenly aware of what they are scoring. At the end of the day, what we are doing here is identifying what is feasible and what has the highest business value. I know, I know—this sounds obvious, but you would be astonished by how frequently this does not occur.
Approaches vary, but a common model employs the notion of product generations with features projected by extrapolating recent market trends. An alternative approach relies on a visionary or idealistic future scenario created through a brainstorming process.
4b. Discover the optimum sequence.
The fourth stage enumerates barriers to reaching the goals and targets defined in stage two by characterizing the technical (and infrastructure) gaps and hurdles impeding progress. Remarkably, this often proves the most difficult of all stages because of the high level of uncertainty and wide range of strongly held opinions. At this point the technology drivers and their targets are specified and the technology alternatives that can satisfy those targets should be specified. For each of the alternatives a timeline should be estimated for how it will mature with respect to the technology driver targets.
The time factor can be adapted or made suitable for the particular situation. The time horizons for e-commerce and software-related sectors are usually short. Other distinctions can be made on scale and intervals.
5. Develop the Roadmap
Finally, concrete plans addressing each gap form the fifth stage. This usually translates into a list of research and development priorities. Technical strategies and timetables represent the consensus of the planners. Do not underestimate this task. After all the hard work put into an exercise like this, the last thing we need to do is to confuse our stakeholders with mind-numbing detail. Yes, we need this for ourselves to exhaust any possibility that we have missed something. And to ensure we haven’t overlooked the obvious—not sure who said this but, “when something is obvious, it may be obviously wrong.”
Because the alternatives may differ in costs, timeline, etc., a selection has to be made of the alternatives. These will be the alternatives to be pursued. In this step a lot of trade-offs have to be made between different alternatives for different targets: for example, performance over costs and even target over target. The technology roadmap report consists of five parts:
- The identification and description of each technology area
- Critical factors in the roadmap
- Unaddressed areas
- Implementation recommendations
- Technical recommendations
Phase 3: Follow-up activity phase
This is the moment when the roadmap must be critiqued, validated and hopefully accepted by the group that will be involved in any implementation. For this, a plan needs to be developed using the technology roadmap. Next, there must be a periodical review and update point, because the needs from the participants and the technologies are evolving.
As with any powerful tool, the potential for misuse, or even abuse, leads to abundant dangers and can render a technology roadmap useless, or worse. Risks exist at all stages of roadmapping. The rest of this paper analyses key roadmapping risks with techniques to identify and mitigate each risk.
Expert opinions and market data form the foundation from which the roadmaps emerge. Obviously, bias on the part of experts or inaccurate input data results in a weak foundation. Not surprisingly, the experts who participate in roadmapping incorporate their personal and professional biases into the process. These experts, rightly, champion projects and positions they believe in, often with explicit employer support. When properly balanced by alternative points of view, this type of bias facilitates the advance of new ideas. On the other hand, if a particular camp represents disproportionate or especially persuasive representation, the group may overlook viable alternative perspectives.
One strategy to limit undue influence of expert bias relies on open and explicit disclosure of each participant’s business and career interests. In addition, roadmap organizers must continually monitor the balance among various initiatives, causes, and stakeholders represented within the group, adding participants as needed to insure each point of view has a voice.
Misleading Market Data
Recognition of genuine trends requires the perspective of time and distance. Confusion between short-lived fads and sustained trends often obfuscate reality. For example: the iPad, real trend or passing fashion? Time will tell. Time did tell! Because the iPad was not predicted in the mobile phone roadmap, Nokia, Samsung, Motorola and RIM were not working on such a product and found themselves woefully behind when it was clear that the iPad was not a fad. However, roadmapping requires interpretation of contemporary market activity in terms of sustained trends. A badly skewed roadmap results when market hype supersedes real trends.
To guard against such uncertainty, the roadmap must explicitly acknowledge the uncertainty of market forecasts. One helpful approach employs future scenario planning in which the team describes alternative, possible futures. Recognizing that each future scenario represents a real potential outcome can add balance and limit the impact of transient market patterns on the roadmap.
While bonafide market trends provide reasonable predictions of future development, they cannot predict breakthroughs and/or revolutionary innovations. Just as driving down the highway while watching only the rearview mirror increases risk of a collision, blind reliance on recent market trends results in a roadmap that may suddenly become outdated (and irrelevant). Future scenario planning also mitigates the impact of the unforeseen innovation. While no collection of alternative future scenarios can predict a breakthrough, explicit inclusion of forecast uncertainty results in a more robust roadmap better able to encompass unforeseen developments.
Appropriate aspirations, in response to the second essential roadmapping question (where do we want to be?), create the motivational and empowering focus of the roadmap. Overly conservative or overly ambitious aspirations sap the life out of a roadmap and demotivate the participants. Moreover, some aspirations appear so utopian or naive that they become totally unrealistic.
If left unchecked, inappropriate aspirations render the roadmap a worthless waste of time. Conversely, a good set of aspirations promotes great outcomes as President John Kennedy did in 1961 when he established the goal to send a man to the moon and back by the end of the decade. Assess proposed aspirations by getting a feel for their ability to motivate and excite. No excitement means more work to do. Too much excitement likely means either naiveté or unrealistic expectations.
We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know
The mechanistic approach implied by Figure 4 ignores the inevitable uncertainty in forecasting. We don’t know what we don’t know, so how can we correctly identify the barriers between today’s situation and tomorrow’s aspirations? Which paths lead to dead-ends and which paths enable products not yet imagined? The authors agree with Carl von Clausewitz: “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” The benefit of planning, fortunately, lies not in accuracy, but in the insight and understanding gained through the process.
Similarly, no (useful) roadmap survives first contact with the future. Nevertheless, a useful roadmap engenders insight and understanding when viewed as a process.
A related risk lies in focusing on the technology roadmap as a product, rather than as a process. Viewing the roadmap as a product distorts the tool’s greatest value: insight and understanding resulting from exploring alternative futures.
When viewing the roadmap as a process, periodic reassessments and revisions attract and retain the interest of participants. Revisions based on new information implement easily with clearly articulated alternative scenarios and explicit linkages between scenarios and roadmap elements. As a result, the roadmap becomes increasingly relevant instead of suddenly outdated.
Innately irregular, creativity and innovation resist scheduling. Application of additional resources accelerates progress in some situations but often diminishes creative output. By analogy, some seem to think that nine women can make a baby in one month. Realistic timetables avoid scheduling uncertainties and critical paths that require true innovation. Prioritizing research and development conforms to the intention and power of technical roadmapping.
Perhaps the subtlest danger embedded in technology roadmapping lies in the potential to stifle innovation. In effect the roadmap often blocks revolutionary innovations, particularly when creative ideas deviating from the roadmap’s strategic plan receive no resource allocation, the roadmap ultimately quashes breakthroughs.
With a thorough understanding of the roles of uncertainty and unforeseeable developments expressed in alternative future scenarios, business managers, marketing groups and researchers quickly grasp the likely significance of off-roadmap events.
Rather than stifle creativity, thoughtfully developed and maintained technical roadmaps stimulate innovation that either supports the vision expressed in the roadmap or challenges the assumptions and scenarios that underlie the roadmap.
Many industries—including the electronics industry—recognize value and benefits in technical roadmapping. However, misuse leads to abundant dangers and can render a technology roadmap useless, or worse. Good roadmaps embrace uncertainty, exploiting apparent weakness to derive maximum insight and understanding. Good roadmaps also motivate and inspire creativity. The Technology Roadmapping Handbook from the University of Leipzig is a useful document to download as a roadmapping reference.