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10 Tips for Successful Technology Roadmapping

Check out our list of 10 proven tips for building and implementing technology roadmaps in your industry or organization.

3-dimensional rendering of a modern data center, shallow depth of field with computer stacks in the foreground with light streaming through a glass door in the backgroundThe term technology roadmapping has gained widespread use in industry, government, and academia. The term originated with Motorola in the 1980s and focused on technologies for product development. In the 1990s, technology roadmapping began to be applied to industry-wide R&D activities, first targeting the U.S. semiconductor industry through SEMATECH and later focusing on energy-intensive industries through leadership of the U.S. Department of Energy. Today, technology roadmapping is applied to:

  • Internal corporate R&D initiatives
  • Discipline-specific R&D efforts pursued by partner organizations
  • Industry-wide R&D collaboration at the regional, national, and global levels

Nexight has helped to lead more than 100 technology roadmapping efforts for companies, government agencies, and entire industries, including metals and chemicals production, advanced automotive materials, cyber security of electric grid control systems, and a variety of energy production technologies. We have also applied our technology roadmapping methodology to other scientific disciplines such as developing an effective malaria vaccine—a global roadmapping effort that spanned three continents.

In short, a technology roadmap can be many different things to many different people.

However, the best technology roadmaps share common features. We’ve created a list of ten tips for building and using a successful technology roadmap within your organization or industry.

Tips 1-5: Optimize Your Technology Roadmapping Process and Output

Let’s start with the first five:

1) Roadmaps are not lists

An effective technology roadmap defines technology pathways that show how incremental innovations, often happening in parallel, can add up to new technologies and products in the future. They also highlight opportunities for breakthrough innovations to radically accelerate the R&D process. If your roadmap does not show these relationships, do you have a roadmap or a list?

2) It’s all about the priorities

We can’t tell you how many roadmaps we’ve seen that are just a wish list of activities without any sense of relative priority. Resources are finite; directing precious R&D funds to the right topics is the job of a good roadmap—one that can only be done when the roadmap specifies relative priority of roadmap activities.

3) You need senior-level buy-in now

A roadmap takes you where you want to go. In most organizations, senior leaders must provide this “strategic intent” at the outset of the roadmapping process. Then the roadmap can be tailored to produce a useful planning tool that aligns decision with that strategic intent. Without this leadership, roadmaps run the risk of simply conveying the work that researchers would like to do.

4) People matter

Senior leaders are not the people who implement a roadmap. A roadmap ultimately must influence people to make decisions and align actions that support the overall strategy. Engaging these stakeholders during the roadmap development process goes a long way toward ensuring these people buy into the roadmap’s priorities, both figuratively with their support and literally with their R&D budgets. A roadmap developed in isolation and then delivered in its final form without this continuous engagement is more likely to be rejected or ignored.

5) A picture is worth a thousand words

Can you create a simple picture, diagram, or dashboard to quickly convey roadmap priorities and status at a glance? If so, you have a much stronger chance that people will engage with the roadmap and make decisions that align individual action with larger corporate or industry goals.

Tips 6-10: Ensure Your Technology Roadmap Delivers Real Value

While the technology roadmapping process is complex and nuanced, creating your roadmap is actually the easy part. The bad news is that using your roadmap—implementing it, to use the buzzword—is where things get tough. The good news is that this is also when real value can be created.

Like roadmaps themselves, there is no “one size fits all” formula for using a roadmap properly. To be successful, the roadmap must integrate with your existing business and technology planning processes, organizational structures, and information systems.

Effectively implementing a roadmap is hard enough for individual companies, research labs, or government programs, but it’s even harder for collaborative roadmaps—roadmaps developed and used by groups of organizations working together at an industry or sector level. Such roadmaps present unique challenges, such as competing interests, differing tolerances for risk, varying degrees of technical expertise, and the lack of a single point of authority for decision making.

But, fear not!

We’ve reflected on the 100 or so roadmaps that we’ve helped to produce to identify what separates those that are useful from those that sit on shelves collecting dust. Below are five more tips for creating roadmaps that deliver real value:

6) Focus on the outcomes

Successful roadmap implementation does not begin when the roadmap is finished. Implementation models should be a major factor early in the process when you are designing your roadmap and the process you will use to create it. By understanding how you will use your roadmap, you can be sure the roadmap contains the information, structure, and support necessary for success.

7) Seek unity of effort

No roadmap is implemented by one person. Indeed, the chief value of roadmaps is their ability to align the efforts of many toward shared goals. Your roadmap process can be structured in a way that builds shared commitment, helps align missions, and defines roles and responsibilities across organizations. Doing so while you build your roadmap is essential for creating the expectations and relationships needed to implement it through coordinated action.

8) Build it in rings

How can you engage the dozens or hundreds of people who will use your roadmap in the roadmap development process without that process getting out of control? You build it in rings, like a bulls-eye target. Start with small and appropriate groups for specific activities, like the most senior executives for visioning and goal setting. As the roadmap progresses and grows, pull in more people to contribute, confirm, add, validate, and act upon your roadmap.

9) It’s ALIVE! Keep it that way

A roadmap deals with the future, and thus must manage uncertainty. New information is constantly becoming available. Your organization and the outside world do not stand still. To remain relevant and useful, roadmaps must be “living” documents that are monitored and updated regularly to reflect new data, technology advances, and changing business conditions. It may help to think about your ongoing roadmapping process more than your roadmap, which is really just a snapshot in time.

10) Remember, one size does not fit all

No external consultant understands the unique challenges your organization faces better than you do. Beware of firms trying to sell you a standard system or approach. Too often, this approach results in a thoughtful roadmap that offers potential in theory but is dead on arrival in practice because it cannot be implemented within the reality of your operations.  That’s why Nexight’s approach focuses on customizing your roadmap to your unique situation and requirements.

How Nexight Can Help

Using these tips cannot only help you build an effective roadmap but also implement it to extract maximum value. Not feeling up to the challenge? Need some help getting started? Let’s talk.

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