Ross Brindle

Building a technology roadmap is hard. It’s difficult to predict research breakthroughs and the pace of technology gains even when other variables are within your direct control. But these challenges multiply in a consortium setting, where member organizations may have competing interests, priorities, and perspectives.

Think about it: individual companies have full control of the budgets, people, and facilities needed to focus on a roadmap’s priorities and measure results. They also have built-in methods for making decisions. Ultimately, the boss can tell the organization where to go.

R&D consortia—such as the 35 industry-led consortia stood up by the NIST Advanced Manufacturing Office (under the AMTech program) and the nine Manufacturing Innovation Institutes—raise the complexity of developing and implementing a roadmap by a wide margin. By design, a consortium aims to become more than a sum of its parts by bringing partners with diverse capabilities and resources together. However, each partner also brings different business goals, planning processes, and operating expectations to the table. Aligning these different expectations and norms across dozens or hundreds of partners to build an integrated technology roadmap requires specialized tools and techniques. Plus, there is often no single decision-maker with the authority to end debates and provide direction. Often, consortia look to companies like Nexight to act as neutral third parties who can facilitate decision-making in such collaborative environments. But it’s not easy.

I’ve previously offered tips for successful technology roadmapping, and many of those apply to consortia-based activities. But since recently working with five AMTech projects, two Manufacturing Innovation Institutes, and many other R&D consortia to build roadmaps, I’ve learned five additional tips for how to build a successful technology roadmap for an R&D consortium:

  1. Define your terms—In some ways, R&D consortia are like the United Nations. In both cases, many different organizations must come together, speak the same language, and agree on the best path forward. While many (but not all!) R&D consortia consist of people who speak the same language, they often define terms differently. What one organization calls an objective, another calls a goal, and a third calls a target. Should the roadmap have pathways, swim lanes, or thrusts? Too many consortia spend too much time arguing over definitions rather than focusing on the harder work of agreeing on shared priorities. By defining terms early in your process, you can skip the definitional debates and get to the important work of setting shared goals. Or targets. Or objectives.
  2. Connect the dots—Each partner may only be interested in a subset of your roadmap. While the roadmap must address the breadth of the consortium’s concern, you have to help each member “see itself” in the consortium’s roadmap. You also need to be sure members see how their interests fit within the larger whole. Being able to connect the dots among individual member interests to form a larger whole is fundamental to any consortium’s value proposition. A good consortium-based roadmap makes this easy, ideally through well-crafted infographics, diagrams, and images.
  3. Embrace uncertainty—As with any effort to predict the future, roadmapping is an exercise in uncertainty. Consortia members will recognize and express concern with this uncertainty. After all, isn’t a roadmap supposed to provide all the answers to where the consortium is going? Further, organizations have different comfort levels and methods for dealing with uncertainty. Some consortia make the mistake of downplaying uncertainty and trying to instill a “just trust us” mentality. More effective consortia embrace that uncertainty and engage their members in discussions to help understand, quantify, and manage or reduce uncertainty. This transparency builds more confidence and trust than saying “just trust us” ever can!
  4. Measure and report progress—Any roadmap worth its salt is accompanied by an action plan and tools for measuring progress during its implementation. In a consortium setting, measurement and progress reporting is even more essential. First, all consortium members may not be involved in all consortium activities. More importantly, consortium members constantly ask themselves whether they are better off pursuing R&D on their own rather than through the consortium. Only by measuring and reporting progress against its roadmap can an R&D consortium build the sustainable member buy-in needed for long-term success.
  5. Communicate more than you think you need to—Just like consortia have many interests to balance, members of your consortium have many competing interests for their time, attention, and resources. To ensure members remain engaged in your roadmap’s development and implementation, communicate, communicate, communicate! Err on the side of giving them too much information too frequently to maintain buy-in and demonstrate progress.

If you are responsible for building a consortia-based roadmap, we can help. At Nexight, we specialize in technology roadmapping and know firsthand the power of our roadmap process to bring groups of people to actionable consensus.