Mar 062013

business people discussing innovationStrategic planning is a business process that combines market and industry analysis with the necessary capabilities and competencies required to fulfill customer needs in that market. Roadmapping has emerged as an effective way of creating and visualizing the resulting strategy and its elements. Strategic Roadmapping provides a bridge among all the strategic and tactical decision processes, business functions, and organizational units though the common element of time.

A roadmap is simply management’s view of how to get where they want to go or to achieve their desired objective. The Strategic Roadmap is a useful tool that helps senior management visualize what major initiatives will be executed over time, and it helps to ensure that the capabilities to achieve their objective are in place when needed.

In the context of product innovation, roadmapping defines the plan for the evolution of your products; it links your innovation strategy to your plans for new products and to the technologies needed to develop them. Roadmapping helps to identify, select, sequence and prioritize a set of major product development initiatives, and it provides a way to develop, organize and present information on:

  • What new products or product lines your business will develop
  • What new product platforms you will develop to support these product developments
  • The timing and sequence of these developments
  • And even the technologies to be invested in, either through internal technology development work or technology acquisition and licensing-in.

The resulting product roadmap sets “placemarks” for development projects into the future; that is, an ear-marking of resources or a tentative commitment to projects.

Strategic Roadmapping is a multi-faceted, cross-functional product planning process, requiring many strategic, tactical and other inputs. It is a strategically-driven resource allocation method, and can be used instead of, or along with, the Strategic Buckets approach. This top-down approach is designed to ensure that the proposed development projects contribute to, or are essential for, the realization of your business’s strategy and goals. A Strategic Product Roadmap is an effective way to map out this series of initiatives in an attack plan.

Note that there are different types of roadmaps: the strategic product roadmap which lays out the sequence of major product developments and their timing; and the technology roadmap (also strategic), which maps what technologies will be required and when.

From Strategy to Roadmaps
Let’s use a military analogy: You are a five-star General at war. You have clearly specified goals – presumably to win the war or to achieve certain ends. You have identified certain key strategic arenas – fronts or major battlefields – on a map where you plan to attack and win. But as you chart your strategy, you see that there are some assaults or initiatives you will have to engage in along the way – individual battles that you must fight in order to see your strategy succeed.

Now let’s translate the elements of the General’s strategy to a Strategic Roadmapping context for product innovation:

  • Goals and objectives: What product innovation goals and objectives your business has; for example, what percentage of your business’s growth over the next three years will come from new products?
  • Arenas, fronts and major battlefields: These are the strategic arenas defined in your business and new product strategy. That is, which markets, technologies and product types do you plan to attack? Where will you focus your new product efforts?
  • Attack plans: How do you plan to win on each battlefield or arena? Will you launch a frontal assault (be the innovator and first in), or adopt a more conservative, wait-see-and-attack strategy (fast follower)? Will you attack with a global plan, or perhaps a “glocal” or local one? Finally, will you attack alone or try to form an alliance, and venture into the arena with a partner.
  • Deployment: How many troops do you deploy to each battlefield, front or strategic arena? Making the right resource commitments and defining strategic buckets are key to the resource issue.
  • Assaults and initiatives: These are the major developments that you must undertake in order to implement your strategy – the major new product, technology or platform developments: your Strategic Roadmap

Tactical Versus Strategic Roadmaps
Our focus here is on Strategic Roadmaps, as opposed to Tactical Roadmaps. A Strategic Roadmap lays out only the major and strategic development initiatives, including major new products and technology developments. It is longer term, and can be for as long as five or seven years forward.

By comparison, a Tactical Roadmap provides more detail, and is a precise outline of each and every product release, extension, improvement or modification. It is often for one product group or line, and often developed by the product manager. Usually this roadmap also contains details on the nature, attributes and performance characteristics of the products in the map. It tends to be more short term, for example, one year.

A five-to-seven year time-frame may seem like a long time, and extremely difficult to forecast and plan for. It is! But note that a Strategic Product Roadmap is an evolving or “evergreen” plan. Because it is updated annually (or even more frequently), only the first year is implemented as is. Roadmaps are not static plans, but rather are snapshots of a rolling strategy at any point in time.

The Objectives of Roadmapping
The overall goal of roadmapping usually is to create dynamic, long-term integrated plans for product and technology development. When employing roadmapping, you should have at least three objectives in mind:

  1. Assess the uncertainties of the long-term future in a systemic and methodical manner.
  2. Move beyond assessment to develop planned responses to evolving market needs, customer requirements, competitor threats and regulatory changes.
  3. Understand and dynamically align your technology development and investment plans, product development efforts, market needs, and high0level company strategies as they evolve and change over time.

Developing a Strategic Roadmap
If you’re thinking that your business lacks a clearly articulated innovation strategy and a strategic roadmap for achieve the business’s goals and objectives, and that maybe now is the time to lay the groundwork for developing such a roadmap, you’re probably right on both counts. But a word of caution: this does take considerable time and effort.

About The Author:
Dr. Robert G. Cooper is one of the most influential innovation thought leaders in the business world today. A prolific author, he has published more than 100 academic articles and eleven books, including the best selling Winning at New Products, 3rd Edition. He is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including the Crawford Fellow from the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) and the Maurice Holland Award from the Industrial Research Institute (IRI). Dr. Cooper is a Professor Emeritus of Marketing and Technology Management at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada and Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Business Markets (ISBM) at Penn State University in Pennsylvania, USA. For more information, please visit:

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