A Primer for Integrated Roadmapping: An Interview with Ken Huskins
Dr. Ken Huskins is a Principal Consultant at Stage-Gate International with wide experience in new product and service innovation, strategic planning, and product portfolio management.
Why is integrated roadmapping so important?
I work for a company called Stage-Gate International and Stage-Gate is understood widely to be an execution process for how you take a product idea all the way through to development to a successful launch. So it’s more tactical, it’s more execution-driven.
It ignores, however, a great deal of research that Bob Cooper and Scott Edgett did that indicated all of the other processes involved with being excellent at new product development, in particular, innovation strategy as well as portfolio management. Integrated roadmapping is one of these under-the-radar things that hasn’t really caught on in a large way, yet is so incredibly important to bridge innovation strategy and portfolio management. And so I’m keenly interested in it and I try to interest my clients in it as well.
What is an “integrated roadmap” and what is it used for?
As you might imagine, the word “integrated” suggests that there are multiple forms of roadmaps that come together into a unified whole. The integration part of it, or the separate roadmaps that we consider to be important are:
Project the evolution of the market
[First,] taking a look at the market evolution or the projection of the market evolution out into the future. You might consider that to be crystal-balling a little bit, trying to make an understanding of what the market needs are going to be, how demographics will change, in whatever product innovation you do. So the first part is to try to develop an understanding or your belief of what the market’s going to do into the future.
- Anticipate desired products and service types to satisfy the evolving market
The second part is to translate that into the products and service types that would be needed to satisfy that evolving market.
- Roadmap the necessary underlying technologies and products
And the third part is to do a roadmap on the existing technologies that an organization owns and has the right to leverage in your product development and to determine whether those strategies are actually going to be effective over the time horizon that you are looking at.
So, in review, we think of roadmapping as looking at the evolution of the market over the long term, product categories to satisfy what you believe those market needs to be as well as the underlying technologies that are going to enable your ability to create those products.
Describe an example of integrated roadmapping.
A classical one that Bob Cooper has published is the following. A cellular phone company, several years back, exercised roadmapping and their first observation was, or prediction, I should say, that over time, landlines, static landline phones, would give way to mobile technology at some point in the future.
It seems a little comical today to be talking about this example, because we all carry cellphones with us and many households don’t even have landlines any longer. But put yourself back 10 or 15 years, and that would have been perhaps a crazy thought.
Mobile phones originated as car phones, they were large and clunky, they had limited utility, and that company was saying “that’s true today but in the future, we imagine that individuals would be benefited – it would satisfy customer needs to have more mobile technology.”
So that was their premise and that was the beginning of their market roadmap. Then they started analyzing, “if we were going to make mobile phones to meet that future reality, what might they have to look like?” Well they certainly couldn’t be large and clunky, they certainly couldn’t be underpowered so that you’d have to plug them in every half hour or so. They truly would have to be mobile. They would have to be small, and they would have to have features that the original mobile phones didn’t have.
So that gave them a pretty good understanding of imagining if the future became more mobile, what the product types might look like.
So then they started looking at the technologies that go into mobile phones. And it was quickly determined that battery technology circa 15 or 20 years ago would be insufficient to meet those customer needs and those product attributes. And so by estimating current battery technology and anything that they could determine about advancements to it, they quickly realized that in order for that view of the world to come about, batteries would have to be invented.
And so they set about with partnerships and their own internal work to actually try to execute that integrated roadmap.
They believed that there was a good opportunity for that mobile technology to take over, they had a good understanding of what the phones needed to look like, and they established early research programs to pioneer new versions of technology.
If this company simply did annual planning, there’s no way that those pieces would have been anticipated and put together. But strategically they wanted to be in innovation, in cellular phone technology early on, and they committed to taking that long look.
How is integrated roadmapping different from annual planning?
Integrated roadmapping, in our view, is a very strategic activity – and that’s not to say that annual planning isn’t also strategic. But annual planning is, as it sounds, encouraging an awareness in the organization of what the goals for that particular year, are.
Innovation is a longer-term play and integrated roadmapping takes the longer view. Oftentimes as short as 7 years and as long as 15 years. For an organization to truly be excellent at innovation, and to be able to sustain that, we believe that integrated roadmapping is an integral part of that strategy to be successful.
How “integrated” is integrated roadmapping within R&D and Innovation organizations today?
Not as much as we would like to see. Again, from Bob Cooper and Scott Edgett’s research and benchmarking studies, it’s clear that less than 20% or 25% of companies actually even invest any effort whatsoever in doing this long-term planning.
That percentage may vary from one industry to another but in general, annual planning, budget cycle, the short view, the pressure from Wall Street for public companies to succeed and the short life cycle of CEOs at companies – all of those pressures tend to put effort on what can we develop today, what can we get into market tomorrow, and how can we move the needle a little on our business.
It’s really the companies that are innovative for the long-haul that have recognized the value strategically of doing integrated roadmapping.
What does an organization gain from integrated roadmapping?
They are investing in the future and importantly they’re investing in their ability to out-compete the other organizations or companies that are in their market space. They will institute processes of strategic roadmapping, they will commit to annual refreshing or evergreening of those roadmaps, because as you pass one year, your view of the next 5 or 10 or 15 years might be – could change – based upon factors. You don’t want to be so wedded to what you believe today that you’re unwilling to change that direction going forward.
But the power is it provides you with a framework upon which to communicate what the innovation vision is to the company, and it mobilizes cross-functional groups to work in concert with one another and it becomes very clear as to how to stage new projects or new product development in a way that meets your view of the future.
Can integrated roadmapping work for fast-changing industries?
That’s a common objection. Not only do things change fast, but you have to pay a price, you have to invest in doing these roadmaps. You can’t just do these on-the-fly so to speak, or without a justification.
And so the inertia that we always find is, or the pressures that we always find, is that there is an emphasis on the short term, the near term, and what can we do tomorrow, that tends to lower the risk in an organization, it tends to underwhelm the marketplace or the customer with the types of products, fewer homeruns, less impact on moving the needle of the business.
So it’s always interesting to me that a company will say, “This is hard. It takes a lot of effort. It’s taking a long-term view and how do we know what’s actually going to happen? We’re much better at doing things in the short term.”
Yet on the flip-side, there’s a constant complaint that innovation and new product development is not returning on the investment to the level that shareholders would like it or expect it to be. And to perpetuate the way that things are being done now and expect a different result is not necessarily good business or a good approach to innovation.
What does it take to include integrated roadmapping into your processes?
It takes a bit of education – maybe that’s not the right word – or coaching – of executive teams to demystify what roadmapping or integrated roadmapping is. And more basically help an organization not fear being strategic about its new product development programs and move a little bit away from the acknowledged or approved projects in any given year and building budgets up against them.
So how do you do that? Our consulting practice is quite adept at entering a boardroom, talking to the senior executive team, helping them to understand what it takes in order to achieve the type of growth that they’re looking for.
And yes it does take a while to get that image firmly instilled, and it’s not an overnight return on the investment, but if you have an informed or enlightened management team, if they tend to believe that their role is going to perpetuate more than just two or three years and then they move on to the next job, they are looking for a way to become more and more successful.
And so talking to them about adding to their overall business strategy, a component that really clearly articulates the role that innovation needs to play to drive that business strategy and to give them a framework upon which to systematically build that strategy inclusive of roadmapping, of course, we can demystify it and help them to see that it’s not tough medicine for them to take and the benefits there are very very strong.