Innovation is vital to the success of all organizations, faced with ever-greater challenges of global competition, new technology developments and the increasing complexity and pace of business change. Firms need to organize their innovation, with structured phase-review management processes commonly used, along with methods such as portfolio management, quality function deployment, scenario planning and technology roadmapping.

Such approaches need to suit the type of innovation, the business context and the position in the innovation ‘funnel’. More exploratory approaches are appropriate at the start, where uncertainties are high and many options are possible, with a need to migrate to more structured and quantitative methods suitable for delivering complex projects on time with managed risk.

The roadmapping method is widely used by firms to support innovation and strategic planning. From its origins in Motorola in the late 1970s, the method has been adopted by many organizations in a wide variety of industrial sectors. The method is flexible and has been adapted to address many strategic goals, to coordinate and align strategy between functions, along the supply chain and within sectors.

The standard time-based multi-layer structure of roadmaps enables the technique to be used throughout the innovation process, providing a common structured visual language that supports cross-functional communication, management and review. However, the content of the roadmap, and the way in which the method is used varies dramatically from the more exploratory front-end of the innovation funnel, to the more directed project-oriented phases later on. Roadmapping supports traditional new product development processes by providing a longer-term perspective, improving confidence that current investments are aligned with the strategic direction of the business, and provides a broad view of how a complex set of projects work together to achieve the overall goal.

Roadmapping is a flexible approach, and can be readily customized to the particular business context. The following aspects should be considered when designing and planning an initiative:

  • The timeframes depicted on the roadmap can be adjusted to reflect both the rate of change and the time horizons that are of importance.
  • The structure used to organize information within the roadmap (the layers and sub-layers) can be adapted to suit the particular issues and context of interest.
  • The process adopted to develop and maintain the roadmap content can be adapted, ranging from very quick and informal processes, to more formal and complex approaches.
  • The graphical format chosen to present the roadmap can be adapted to suit the particular situation.
Workshops are particularly helpful, providing an opportunity for the various stakeholders to share perspectives and develop a common understanding of the context, goals and way forward. The structure provided by the roadmap provides a natural template to organize such discussions, and to capture and communicate the outputs. An iterative approach is advocated, adopting a rapid prototyping philosophy to develop the first roadmap efficiently (‘one page in one day’), as a learning process. The issues and knowledge gaps identified in the first step provide a focus for activity for the second iteration, with the roadmap updated on a periodic basis moving forward.

The use of roadmapping at the ‘fuzzy front end’ of the funnel can support rapid identification and appraisal of innovation opportunities. Linking in roadmapping to the review points in new product development processes helps to ensure that key alignment points are identified and managed, supporting more responsive, effective and efficient innovation management.

About the Author

Dr. Robert Phaal is based at the Centre for Technology Management at the University of Cambridge. Research interests include strategic technology management and the development of practical decision support methods and tools. Further information on roadmapping can be found in a new book “Roadmapping for strategy and innovation: aligning technology and markets in a dynamic world”, available from

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