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What is roadmapping and what you need to know about it


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My client contact said concerningly, “I have no idea how anybody in this company can make any credible decision. They are working with a work of fiction." This is an extreme example, but the point remains: Serious problems emerge when you do not have a single and consistent source of truth.

Many define roadmapping as a visualization of a product’s timeline. While that’s undoubtedly true, roadmaps are often much more than that, depending on the unique nature of a company’s product portfolio goals. A roadmap for a chemical company might focus less on technology and more on other items that will impact the product and how it’s developed, such as regulatory considerations. In comparison, an automotive company will use roadmapping to understand a complex, interrelated set of technologies and product components.

What is roadmapping? The University of Cambridge says, "Roadmapping is a powerful strategic planning technique that is integral to creating and delivering strategy and innovation in many organizations.” This is a good definition of roadmapping because it covers many aspects of product development.

An effective roadmap provides a clear picture of decisions, statuses, relationships, and dependencies. It highlights risks, market assessments, technology assessments, and product assessments. And it indicates how much revenue is at stake. Roadmapping is the process of thinking about and creating all that information.

Let’s explore how to develop a successful roadmapping approach that will drive innovation in your company.

Determine a cadence for roadmapping updates

Many organizations conduct roadmapping periodically as part of their corporate planning cycles—perhaps once or twice a year. Other companies do it more frequently because they have regular business reviews.  Some do it continuously because it's integral to their business process. The most successful companies perform roadmapping frequently.

So why don’t all companies roadmap at a more consistent cadence? In my experience, companies that roadmap less frequently face a familiar roadblock: a lack of automated roadmapping software. For these companies, it is difficult to capture the various elements that an effective roadmap should incorporate. Roadmapping is an arduous process when data is captured in a series of PowerPoint presentations and excel spreadsheets. As a result, these roadmaps can contain conflicting, inconsistent, and inaccurate information.

These organizations struggle to conduct roadmapping with the frequency or accuracy necessary to drive good innovation. When information—like start and end dates, launch dates, risk assessments, etc.—is automatically and easily captured, continual roadmapping is possible and a lot less time-consuming.

Identify and adhere to your organization’s roadmapping goals

No single reason—or series of reasons—determines why companies create roadmaps. Most times, companies need a single source of truth to connect the organization and capture information that all relevant stakeholders can see and work from. Other times, roadmapping is critical to determining the risk in a product plan or aligning products to technologies and external events. Another important use case is understanding and demonstrating alignment with risk or gaps in fulfilling a company strategy.

Roadmapping should ultimately tell a story reflecting your organization’s goals and mission. The best guidepost for determining if your company is living up to its stated goals is a visual representation of the types of products or technologies you are developing, the risks they contain, the value they will create, and the impact they will have on the business portfolio.

Implement roadmap innovation governance

Split your roadmaps into two categories: those that are for external consumption and those that are confidential or for internal use only. Treat your internal roadmaps as protected documents. Apply innovation governance standards to ensure roadmaps reflect the most accurate, up-to-date information. These roadmaps should only reveal proprietary information to those who have permission to see it.

Roadmap innovation governance should determine:

  • What data is needed
  • Who creates and owns that data
  • Who signs off and approves a roadmap
  • When data is created and how it is kept current
  • Who can see what information

Roadmap innovation governance should also ensure a single source of truth across each company roadmap, so everyone understands—and has confidence in— what each other is doing.

I once worked with a customer implementing our roadmapping technology and noticed that one of their products had multiple names and timing across their various roadmaps. My client contact said concerningly, “I have no idea how anybody in this company can make any credible decision. They are working with a work of fiction." This is an extreme example, but the point remains: Serious problems emerge when you do not have a single and consistent source of truth.

Create roadmaps to tell different sides of the same story

Earlier, I wrote that roadmaps tell a story of how you will achieve your organization’s goals and mission. No single roadmap can do that. It takes a collection of roadmaps from multiple points of view—like a product plan, technology plan, and strategy—to tell a complete story. Your roadmaps should account for risk, investment, the likelihood of success, strategy, etc. And those roadmaps should be accompanied by charts, reports, and other bits of information. When you do this, you've moved way beyond anything you could do manually. You need a roadmapping tool to do it.

Roadmapping isn’t easy, but when done correctly, it can drive efficient, cost-effective innovation and set your company up for future success across a portfolio. Learn how Sopheon’s roadmapping software, Accolade for Roadmapping, can enable your company to operate in a way that brings efficiency and reduces errors and misunderstandings.

To learn more about the roadmapping process, listen to 'The roadmapping process' episode on Innovation+ Talks.

Innovation Management, Sopheon

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