The Technology Roadmapping Process

For a brief introduction on technology roadmapping, see my earlier post.

While understanding the basic parts of a roadmap is important, it is just as critical to understand the process that produces such a roadmap. To elaborate on the technology roadmapping process, we refer to Bray and Garcia (1997) who depict the activity as being comprised of three phases: Preliminary Activity, Development of the Technology Roadmap, and Follow-up Activity. The purpose of the first phase is to ‘set up the stage’ for the actual technology roadmapping activity that will happen on the next phase. In this phase, the authors stress the importance of satisfying critical conditions by ensuring that there is “a perceived need for a technology roadmap and collaborative development,” that relevant participants from different functional lines are involved, and that it is clear to everyone that the purpose of the roadmapping activity is to find solutions for a given set of needs and not the other way around. Still in the first phase, another condition that must be met is that there must be a clear provision of leadership and sponsorship since the planning activity will require a considerable amount of resources before the final output starts becoming useful to the concerned parties. Finally, in this first phase, the authors urge to define the context of the roadmap by delineating its scope and boundaries. In some cases, this means conducting the activity as a part of the strategic planning process. These—the authors state—are the necessary preliminary activities that need to be conducted to facilitate the success of technology roadmapping. However, Walsh (2004) states that, when developing a roadmap for disruptive technologies, the roadmapping team needs to first understand the nature of these disruptive technologies before proceeding to the second phase.

Once the preliminary activities have been completed, the roadmapping team may now proceed to the second phase which is concerned with the actual development of the technology roadmap. In this phase, the first activity is involved with identifying the product for which the roadmap is to be developed. It is important to note, however, that the term ‘product’ is being defined loosely here to mean physical goods, a service, or even a set of goods and services provided by an entire industrial sector (a discussion of the use of roadmaps in these other scenarios will be done in a later section). Thus, in this activity, the team begins by linking a product and its versions across time that will cater to evolving market requirements. The next activity then involves identifying the critical system requirements in order for the product to meet market needs. The information gathered in this activity would then form the product’s ‘performance envelope’ as depicted in Figure 2. Based on this, the team then proceeds to delineate the major technology areas that will contribute to the achievement of the desired performance envelope. For example, if one requirement in a new mobile phone’s performance envelope is a size no thicker than 5mm and with a battery life of 200 hours, then the technology areas to consider would be microchip design and manufacture, display technologies, and battery design among others. Once these technology areas have been identified, the next step is to specify the drivers and targets for these technology areas. For example, in the case of the 5mm mobile phone, technology drivers might include microchip power consumption and minimum display lumens. At this point, the team should have enough information to list the technologies that are available or can be made available within the specified timeline. For example, in the case of display technology, the team might identify LCDs and LEDs as two of the possible alternatives. After investigating the potential of these alternatives, the team shall then identify which technology to pursue. Groenveld (1997) suggests to use the Innovation Matrix, as a tool to decide which technology to choose. The final step in this second phase is to produce the technology roadmap report which, according to Bray and Garcia (1997), should include critical success factors or “[those factors] which, if not met, will cause the roadmap to fail.”
It is important to note, however, that in technology roadmapping, product performance does not only depend on the needs of the market, but on the technologies as well. Phaal et al. in 2001 stated that “The ‘performance envelope’ is dictated by a trade-off between market pull (requirements) and technology push (capabilities).” The following is taken from their presentation.

Performance Envelope

From this diagram we find that while product performance helps us identify the technologies necessary to achieve the target levels, the identification of technologies themselves also serve to refine the target performance levels and thus the possible market requirements that the product can address. For example, the market may require a portable computer that can be folded like paper, but if present capabilities indicate that this is not feasible within the next 30 years, such a level of performance needs to be adjusted accordingly. It’s interesting to note that this type of spiral relationship is similar to the whole strategic planning process where, for instance, identification of the gaps may also serve to refine the targets set by the firm in the second step (i.e. where do we want to go?).

After the technology roadmap report has been produced, the third phase now focuses on ensuring that the plan is successfully implemented and updated as needed. In this phase, the first activity involves submitting the plan to a larger group for validation as well as to create buy-in. This step is critical since the plan will be of no use if the larger group responsible for implementing it do not believe in its potential. Once buy-in from the relevant groups and/or individuals has been achieved, the next step is to develop an implementation plan that clearly articulates the operational activities needed to achieve the targets specified in the roadmap. Finally, to ensure that the roadmap remains relevant, the firm must ensure that it is continually reviewed and updated as new events occur. A key thing to keep in mind here is that it is the quality of the planning activity that determines success and that the actual document specifying the plan is only a by-product. That is, the technology roadmap should be a living document that regularly updates itself as new, and perhaps unexpected, developments occur in the environment.

In the next post of technology roadmapping, we will take a brief look at how the tool can be used for other purposes. For a list of references, please see the bottom part of my earlier post.

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