Technology Roadmaps: Anticipating Future Technology Trends

We’ve been surprised lately how few companies are getting the most out of their Technology Roadmaps. We also find that clients often confuse Technology Roadmaps with Product Roadmaps. The best Technology Roadmaps can be rigorous risk management tools while Product Roadmaps can be cartoonish Powerpoint slides depicting products over time. Technologies form one stream of activities, while product timetables form another stream. The Technology Roadmap ties these two streams together by indicating which core technologies will be mature enough to incorporate into a particular product release.

Benefits of the Technology Roadmap

  • Allows teams to determine the technologies that they can incorporate into a particular product
  • Helps anticipate risks by enabling a degree of visibility into the future
  • Illustrates potential areas of exposure and conversely the areas of untapped competitive advantage
  • Improves cooperation and teamwork by connecting Management, Engineering, and Marketing

The figure below shows a Technology Roadmap template. The technology elements are in the first column, followed by the years, and then the importance of the technology. Finally, the roadmap depicts your position relative to your competitors.Technology Roadmap

Technology roadmaps should group technologies together, similar to the way products are grouped into families. For example, a roadmap for a laptop computer would include technology groupings for CPU, display, storage, power management, and mechanical components.

Once you’ve identified these groups, break down the underlying technology components in each and represent their lifetimes as a bar with the X axis representing time. Display the estimated delivery date as the most prominent element.

The second portion of the Technology Roadmap is the product timeline, a horizontal bar chart displaying the launch target for each product at monthly or quarterly intervals. It shows products as grouped families.

In order to produce a robust Technology Roadmap:

  • Invest time in determining the key technologies for your product now and years into the future.
  • Solicit technology input for your roadmap from suppliers and partners – you must judge the degree of realism in their schedules.
  • Spend time out of the office developing technology partners – as more and more competitive advantage comes from outside of the company, do not underestimate the importance of scouting for new technologies.

The beauty of the Roadmap is that it allows for a larger perspective on technologies. You can anticipate the appropriate set of technologies for a given product timetable by looking at a vertical line drawn from the product through to the technologies below. The Technology Roadmap is a living document that you should update as technologies and products shift over time.

Which Business Problems Does the Tool Solve?

A technology strategy, as embodied in a Technology Roadmap, has a critical role in determining competitive positioning. All businesses, even service businesses, can obtain competitive advantage by having a well-defined technology strategy that supports customer delight. The roadmap also helps prevent unfortunate surprises from a delayed component, since you have a system with alternatives ready to go.

What Else You Should Know

The biggest factor to consider before engaging in this process is its difficulty and time requirements. Scanning to identify the proper technology can be time-consuming. Not only does it require significant amount of focused time, it also requires a deep understanding of what distinguishes you from your competitors and an understanding of what customers value.

This is not a one-time event. Update the map on a regular basis and review it with management every quarter. The discussion and critical thinking that go into the creation of a Technology Roadmap can produce more value than the roadmap itself.

The map is of no value if you do not communicate it to management. Technology roadmaps are most effective when they influence corporate strategy. Consider the Technology Roadmap an important input to the yearly strategy process.