“Timing has always been a key element in my life. I have been blessed to have been in the right place at the right time” – Buzz Aldrin
Back in 2021 I wrote about the concept of the “adjacent possible” as described by Steven Johnson in his 2010 book “Where Good Ideas Come From”. There is always a new layer of invention and discovery that society is about to peel back. New technologies and new innovations become possible as this layer is revealed. The corollary of course is that new technologies and new inventions are also dependent on the contents of this layer. If you imagine that the layer contains scientific discovery, any technology reliant on that scientific discovery becomes feasible as soon as the layer’s contents are revealed. Any technology that still relies on scientific discovery that is still hidden in future layers is not yet feasible. This means that you can’t develop technologies and you can’t create innovations that are “ahead of their time”, as Johnson put it.
This is a very useful concept to be mindful of as you develop strategy, as you look for what capabilities will be required by your business to succeed in the future.
It’s likely that your organisation will be working on multiple product and/or service offerings at any time, each of which will have new generations and ultimately retirement and replacement to consider. Each of these discrete offerings must support the overall strategy, because as noted previously innovation and strategy are tightly bound. Each of them must meet genuine customer or stakeholder needs and each of them must be feasible and based on capabilities that your organisation either already has in its portfolio or that it expects to be able to acquire. Tying a diverse set of projects together and keeping them aligned with strategy and with emerging capabilities and new technologies can be a challenge, and this is where roadmapping can help.
As well as always being on the lookout for customer and stakeholder needs, any organisation should always be assessing its capabilities against those it predicts will be required to create its strategy. This is the basis of roadmapping. A product or service roadmap is usually a simple graphical representation of how technologies and capabilities will contribute to the development of new products and services for the organisation. With time on the horizontal axis, the roadmap aims to show how customer, stakeholder and market needs will evolve over time, how capabilities (including new technologies) will become available and how new offerings will be developed to exploit the intersection of these needs and capabilities (Phaal & Muller, 2009). This fits perfectly with how we should think about innovation and strategy, in terms of offerings being created from capabilities to meet needs, as the image below illustrates.
Technology roadmapping is not an exercise whereby a company tries to decide what cool technologies it might want to offer in the future (even though this is how a lot of organisations seem to behave). Capabilities must exist before products or services, or business models, are developed and needs addressed. Therefore, it should be the mapping of those capabilities to anticipated future needs. Capabilities can be acquired through several means:
- Internal research and development
- Acquisition of technology, through purchase or license
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Cooperation and collaboration with partners where there is mutual benefit (open innovation).
As described in the above-mentioned post and in my latest book, the timing of the availability of new technology is critical. Charles Willyard and Cheryl McClees wrote in 1987 about how Motorola pioneered what they called a “Product Technology Roadmap” which clearly laid a forecast of future technologies to which they expected to have access alongside their product roadmap – to inform product development and also to identify which technologies the company might need to acquire in order to fill gaps. Even if it’s a guess (which inevitably it will be), having an idea of when new technologies will emerge is critically important to the roadmapping process.
More recently, and in my opinion really closing the loop with strategy, Aston Business School developed a method linking roadmapping to scenario planning (Hussain, Tapinos & Knight, 2014). Scenario planning was described in Chapter 6 – Uncertain Futures – of my first book. There, I wrote about why it is useful to test your strategy against a variety of potential future states – as described by scenarios. Because technology is part of strategy, it is also a useful exercise to try to link your technology roadmap with the scenarios that you envisage, should you have undertaken scenario planning. However, it can be difficult to develop a “one size fits all” technology roadmap that will suit all possible future scenarios. The authors of this paper recognised this and suggested that each scenario should have its own potential technology roadmap. Although this does not provide surety as to what future technology needs will be, it does provide a tool that the organisation can use to make sure it keeps in touch with all the potential technologies that could be useful to it.
Does your organisation make use of roadmaps? If so, do you drive them from meeting future needs, from exploiting future technologies and capabilities, or are they more of a wish list? There doesn’t have to be any wishing involved.
Want to Know More?
Over the last few months, I have shared ideas and concepts from my new book – and roadmapping is covered in Chapter 6 of the second volume “Getting it Done: Doing Things Right (and Quickly)”. I will be busy with other ventures in the coming months so I won’t be blogging as much from the books, but I will continue to post things I stumble across that (I think) are helpful and pertinent. I hope you enjoy them.
References and Further Reading
Hussain, M., Tapinos, E., & Knight, L. (2014). Foresight Technology Adoption, Combining Scenario Planning and Technology Roadmapping. Dublin: XXV ISPIM Conference – Innovation for Sustainable Economy & Society.
Johnson, S. (2010). Where Good Ideas Come From. New York: Penguin.
Willyard, C., & McClees, C. (1987). Motorola’s Technology Roadmap Process. Research Management 30(5).
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