Ross Brindle

The term technology roadmapping has gained widespread use in industry, government, and academia. The term originated with Motorola in the 1980s and focused on technologies for product development. In the 1990s, technology roadmapping began to be applied to industry-wide R&D activities, first targeting the U.S. semiconductor industry through SEMATECH and later focusing on energy-intensive industries through leadership of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Industrial Technologies (now known as the Advanced Manufacturing Office). Today, technology roadmapping is applied to internal corporate R&D initiatives; discipline-specific R&D activities cutting across several organizations; and industry-wide R&D collaboration at the regional, national, and global levels.

Our CEO, Jack Eisenhauer, and I have helped to lead more than 100 technology roadmapping efforts for companies and government agencies large and small as well as for entire industries, including metals and chemicals production, advanced automotive materials, cyber security of electric grid control systems, and a variety of energy production technologies. We have also applied our technology roadmapping methodology to other scientific disciplines such as developing an effective malaria vaccine— a global roadmapping effort that spanned three continents.

In short, a technology roadmap can be many different things to many different people.

However, the best technology roadmaps share common features. I’ve created a list of ten tips for building and using a successful technology roadmap within your organization or industry. Here are the first five of those tips for visualizing your roadmapping process:

  1. Roadmaps are not lists – An effective technology roadmap defines technology pathways that show how incremental innovations, often happening in parallel, can add up to new technologies and products in the future. They also highlight opportunities for breakthrough innovations to radically accelerate the R&D process. If your roadmap does not show these relationships, do you have a roadmap or a laundry list?
  2. It’s all about the priorities – Again, say it with me: Roadmaps are not lists! I can’t tell you how many roadmaps I’ve opened only to see a wish list of activities without any sense of relative priority. If roadmaps are to be used to guide R&D investment decisions, it is essential to indicate the relative priority of roadmap activities, particularly in today’s environment of increasingly scarce resources in both the public and private sectors.
  3. You need senior-level buy-in now – A roadmap takes you where you want to go. In most organizations, senior managers must provide this “strategic intent” at the outset of the roadmapping process. Then the roadmap can be tailored to produce a useful planning tool that aligns decision with that strategic intent.
  4. People matter – Senior leaders are not the people who implement a roadmap. A roadmap ultimately must influence people to make decisions that support the overall strategy. Engaging these stakeholders during the roadmap development process goes a long way toward ensuring these people buy into the roadmap’s priorities, both figuratively with their support and literally with their R&D budgets. A roadmap developed in isolation and then delivered in its final form without this continuous engagement is more likely to be rejected or ignored.
  5. A picture is worth a thousand words – Can you create a simple picture, diagram, or dashboard to quickly summarize and convey the key roadmap priorities and status at a glance? If so, you have a much stronger chance that people will engage with the roadmap and make decisions that align individual action with larger corporate or industry goals.

These five tips can help you envision your perfect technology roadmap, both in terms of output and the process you use to create it. In Part 2, I will offer five more tips on how to make sure your roadmap does more than just sit on a shelf.