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Technology and Development

Roadmapping is not just a process, it’s a conversation

2 January 2024 Last updated: 17 April 2024
Dr Rob Phaal, Dr Imoh Ilevbare

The Power of Roadmapping in Decision-Making and Stakeholder Alignment to Gain Strategic Value

Roadmapping supports strategic alignment and planning, building confidence and consensus about decisions and resource allocation, at product, business and sector levels.

Roadmaps are structured time-based visual diagrams. They enable decision-making and communication within organisations and with key stakeholders. These might include investors, customers and suppliers.

It’s a very flexible approach to strategy. You can adapt the structure and process to virtually any context or organisation. This means you gain alignment between all perspectives amongst stakeholders, with all the pieces of the strategic puzzle in place. Crucially, everyone understands the critical dependences.

While the final roadmap is a tangible product, the actual process of roadmap development is often less visible. However, many regard the process of roadmapping as being more valuable than the roadmap itself.

Why is this?

The process of roadmapping addresses fundamental questions at the heart of the organisation’s objectives. This includes its critical data, capabilities and stakeholder understandings and aspirations which form the key to effective strategy.

Because of this, the “social” process of creating the roadmap can apply in a wide range of situations to deliver immediate and ongoing value. Let’s break it down layer by layer.

Unlocking the Power of Roadmapping: Navigating Knowledge Structures, Data Layers, and Stakeholder Engagement

a) Knowledge structure

The foundational layer and first step of the process is known as the knowledge structure. This begins by addressing the core questions on what the organisation is looking to achieve through the process.

  1. Why must we act? This dimension of knowledge includes demand-side factors such as environmental and industry drivers, customer needs, competitor activity and high-level strategic imperatives for the organisation.

  2. What should we do? This represents tangible aspects of products, services, and other value-adding systems such as production, logistics and other infrastructure.

  3. How should we do it? This includes supply-side factors such as resources, capabilities, technology, skills, and other enablers necessary for supporting the solutions and applications.

  4. When should we do it? This represents time, enabling synchronisation of actions and plans in the short-, medium- and long-term.

b) Data layer

The data layer looks at the ‘how’, ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘when’ of the strategic challenge and associated data that feeds into the roadmap.

The above dimensions of knowledge define a structured ‘canvas’ that can then be populated by all the necessary perspectives and their dependences. This creates a multi-perspective, time-based chart.

Although the final roadmap can use this form, many other visual representations are possible depending on the purpose and context. The roadmap ‘canvas’ provides an integrating knowledge hub for all the relevant information throughout the strategy and innovation process. We capture key information, organise it, and connect it on the structured canvas, to provide one or more pathways from the current to the desired future state.

c) Stakeholder layer

It is easy to focus on the roadmap as a tangible data artefact, which can limit its potential value and use. When we recognise that a roadmap is a representation of the collective understanding and aspirations of the organisation, only then can we attain its true value. This is where the stakeholder layer matters.

The connections between objects on the roadmap represent dependencies and social contracts between key stakeholders within the system. Each player in the roadmap takes ownership of their contribution to the overall strategic plan for success.

The stakeholder layer of the roadmap represents the final two critical questions and dimensions of knowledge: the who and the where?

While one person can develop a technically coherent roadmap, it likely won’t have much impact within the organisation. Involving all stakeholders in creating the roadmap ensures it incorporates the best available knowledge and that there is mutual understanding and trust. This will minimise confusion and delay between parties.

Accelerating Strategic Insights: Leveraging Workshops in the Roadmapping Process

Workshops provide a creative environment as part of the roadmapping process.

We use the roadmapping canvas to organise discussion, and this can be done by using physical media such as paper, pens and post-it notes, or distributed virtually using digital whiteboards. Workshops enable rapid initiation of roadmapping through an efficient, ‘fast-start’ approach. This approach reduces costs and risks to the organisation because roadmapping allows for diagnostic and problem-solving capabilities early on in the process. This provides an opportunity to learn about the method, and how to adapt it to fit.

Dr Rob Phaal(Opens in a new window) is the Director of Research Strategic Technology and Innovation Management in the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge. Alongside Dr Imoh Ilevbare(Opens in a new window), he leads the University of Cambridge Online(Opens in a new window) course in Product-Technology Roadmapping.

Are you interested in discovering how the process of roadmapping can help your organisation become more strategically aligned? Discover Rob’s online course: https://bit.ly/3g7vNjC(Opens in a new window)

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Director of Research Strategic Technology and Innovation Management, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge
Principal Specialist in strategic technology and innovation management (STIM) at IfM Engage, University of Cambridge