What do we mean by "product roadmapping"? And how does it differ from other business processes? Most of all, why is it important? Here, we answer the most frequently asked questions about roadmapping - what it is, who is and should be using roadmapping processes, and why your organization should consider implementing a roadmapping process to generate greater returns from your R&D and innovation efforts.
Q: What is roadmapping?
A: Roadmapping is the practice of creating time-based representations of information designed to support a specific objective or decision process. When used as part of a strategic planning operation, roadmapping can foster innovation by forecasting the elements needed to address future technological needs or market demands.
When an organization develops a roadmapping practice with the input of all of its members, it outlines the migration path that will bring the organization from where it is today to where it wants to be in the future. Furthermore, roadmapping makes it possible to communicate long-term strategic plans throughout the organization in a consistent format, resulting in a unified, synergistic vision.
Q: How is roadmapping different from other business processes?
A: There are other business processes designed to enhance strategic planning, portfolio management, new product development, competitor analysis, benchmarking, project management, etc. But roadmapping is the only process that provides a bridge between organizations, functions, processes and time.
Roadmapping is the only solution that allows thousands of employees to share visibility of long-range planning, as well as to participate in the creation of roadmaps. Roadmapping is also an incredibly responsive business process, allowing organizations to react to changing conditions in real time.
Q: What are the benefits of roadmapping?
A: Roadmapping has provided countless benefits. Organizations that have implemented roadmapping into their planning have been able to:
- Reduce R&D costs
- Increase revenues from new technology
- Identify emerging opportunities more easily
- Evaluate and select courses of action with the most profit potential
- Build consensus and promote greater collaboration across multiple business functions
- Keep track of the competition more easily
- Improve long-term forecasting with numbers based in solid, accurate facts
- Eliminate the need to reorganize every time there are leadership changes
- React quickly to changing market conditions
- Improve customer satisfaction, retention and loyalty
Q: How can roadmapping help improve an organization's financial returns?
A: The financial rewards an organization receives by implementing a roadmapping practice can be substantial. Companies with a successful roadmapping practice have been able to:
- Accurately determine R&D return on investment (ROI)
- Create new revenue streams from existing technology
- Cancel duplicate, obsolete or low-value projects earlier in the development process
- Make better-informed cuts in spending without affecting vital programs
- Keep R&D focused on new, high-margin products and services that will really sell
- Consolidate redundant technology developments taking place in multiple locations
- Reduce product development lifecycles
- Balance "technology push" with "market pull" for maximum profit potential
Q: Why start a roadmapping practice?
A: Today's business climate is more unpredictable than ever. In the era of the consumer and an increasingly competitive landscape, product cycles are measured in months instead of years. By developing a pervasive roadmapping practice and plotting alternate courses of action, an organization can insulate itself against market volatility, be more agile and make confident adjustments quickly, lowering the business risk.
Q: What information should be included in a roadmap?
A: Because roadmaps can be created for virtually any industry or product, the information that can be included in a roadmap is limitless. Most organizations that roadmap, however, use it to track and manage new products, new services, market needs, external forces, regulatory specifications, emerging technologies, resources and supplier data.
Q: When should an organization begin a roadmapping practice?
A: Although roadmapping can be implemented at any time, the process becomes especially important when a company is:
- Deploying a new technology
- Entering a new market
- Seeking to create alignment between multiple divisions or business functions
- Serving a market where customer demands change frequently
- Losing market share to competitors
- For organizations and associations that speak for an entire industry, implementing an industry roadmap becomes important when individual companies lack the resources or bandwidth to devote R&D to improving industry practices
Q: What organizations currently use roadmapping?
A: Roadmapping is being used by some of the largest organizations in the world. Global leaders like Corning®, Lockheed Martin®, Motorola®, the U.S. Air Force®, and the U.S. Navy® all have formal roadmapping practices and have deployed cutting-edge software tools to manage these practices with great success.
Many industry associations also use roadmapping to chart common goals among its members. The Semiconductor Industry Association®, the National Electronics Manufacturing Initiative® (NEMI) and IPC® are some examples.
Government agencies, such as the Department of Defense and Department of Energy, have also implemented roadmapping practices with dramatic results.
Q: What tools are needed to start a roadmapping practice?
A: Roadmaps can be created with anything from basic spreadsheet programs to highly scalable solutions with total database integration, such as Sopheon's Accolade.
Q: Who should participate in the process of roadmapping?
A: Because every department or business segment of an organization is in some way interrelated with another, we recommend that representatives from almost every department or business segment have some involvement in the roadmapping process. Although most of the initial efforts are led by a roadmapping task force, the more people that are involved in populating the data, the better. At the absolute minimum, start with management from the product, technology and marketing areas.
Q: Are there different types of roadmaps?
A: Yes. Although roadmaps are all time-based representations of information, there are essentially four major types of roadmaps:
- Market or Environment: Captures external influences that define market strategy and key opportunities
- Product: Captures product evolution plans and platform development
- Technology: Captures development plans and the capability to meet product plans
- Strategic Initiative: Captures specific opportunity strategy with required functional and organizational alignment
Q: Can roadmapping be used along with other business practices, like Six Sigma, Total Quality Management (TQM), and Stage-Gate®?
A: Absolutely. Processes like Six Sigma and TQM are designed to improve efficiency and quality assurance. Roadmapping is intended to create innovation by anticipating what lies ahead in a specific industry and charting the most profitable course of action. Although Six Sigma and TQM will help improve financial returns, these business processes don't necessarily help an organization keep up with its competitors in developing new products and new technology.
The Stage-Gate methodology structures the product development process into different stages that is broken-up by various decision points, or gates, that allow an organization to evaluate a project at several points along the way. But roadmapping is the only process that comprehensively determines market needs and matches them with technological capability. And Sopheon is the only product lifecycle management (PLM) provider to synchronize roadmapping and innovation process execution.
Q: What's the next step after creating a roadmap?
A: Roadmaps aren't intended to ever be "complete." Once the initial data is entered, regular maintenance ensures that the roadmap will evolve along with your company's progress. However, once a roadmap has been established, the decision makers in the organization can analyze it, set priorities, decide which projects to fund more aggressively, determine which projects to cut, or deploy a project.
Related reading from roadmapping practitioners and thought leaders: