Need for Structured R&D Roadmaps – Daimler Example

Source Daimler
It takes a long time to develop new technologies and integrate them into products. The wired article How Daimler Built the World’s First Self-Driving Semi has a great example:

Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz, has been working on autonomous driving for two decades.

As amazing as this thing is—it’s a fully autonomous 18-wheeler that works—company execs say it won’t can’t change lanes on its own, it won’t be market-ready for a decade, and could never replace human drivers.

Clearly, developing technologies takes a long time. So successful development needs intermediate productization of technologies.

Much of the technology in the Inspiration—the radars and cameras, the computing power and electrical architecture—has a long track record of commercial use in active safety features like lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control.

Read More


Is Concurrent Engineering Beneficial to Complex Systems?

Source Jalopnik

Concurrent Engineering is simultaneous development of different subsystems, technologies and manufacturing process of a product across suppliers. This iterative development process can accelerate time to market and lead to cost/performance optimization at a system level.

As we have discussed in the past, concurrent engineering is absolutely critical to fast-paced high-tech and electronics industries. Global competition means that companies cannot afford to wait for suppliers complete their development to start planning theirs. In fact, this trend is only accelerating.

However, concurrent engineering adds to product development complexity and makes management even more challenging. If leading-edge companies such as Toyota face challenges due to complexity, is it worth applying these methods to low volume products in industries such as Aerospace and Defense or to a lesser extent Medical Devices?

Read More


Developing Product Platforms – Microsoft Example


Recent news suggests that a new version of Microsoft’s critically acclaimed Surface Book is entering mass production. It appears that Microsoft had to make significant changes to the original Surface Book to meet some of its business goals…

The sources believe Microsoft’s decision to lower the price range for its new Surface Book is because the existing Surface Book’s high price level has significantly limited demand, while the detachable design also created conflict with its Surface Pro product line in terms of product position. Because of the two factors, the sources estimate that Microsoft only shipped 500,000 Surface Books in 2016.With the Surface Book to be positioned as a traditional notebook product and feature a friendlier price level, the sources expect related shipments to reach 1.2-1.5 million units in 2017, while the Surface Pro, despite weakening demand for tablets, will enjoy on-year shipment growth of 20% to reach six million units in 2017.

New product platforms that are significantly different from existing product-lines are notoriously hard to develop. It appears that even a very successful product platform such as Surface Book may actually need updates.
Read More


Indirect Benefits of R&D – Chrysler Example


The article Heritage: Prowler was a vehicle ahead of its time. | driveSRT has some interesting data points about R&D portfolio executives. New technologies can have benefit far beyond the product for which they were developed. 

“Magnesium instrument panels, aluminum hoods and aluminum suspensions, vital crash safety design. All are key traits featured on new SRT vehicles that originated on the Prowler.”

Focusing solely or primarily on NPV for financial metrics to prioritize portfolios will lead us away from long-term discriminators. It is possible to compute financial return on sustaining product development or on products that are close to getting to market. However, it is difficult, if not impossible to accurately compute the return on investment for technologies that apply to multiple products (it requires estimating the part of the products NPV is generated by the technology). In fact, focusing solely on financial metrics will likely scuttle innovation.

What are some solutions:

  • Use financial metrics as one of many criteria for prioritization.
  • Set aside a fraction of the overall R&D budget for innovation and do not use financial metrics for innovation projects.
  • Demonstrate R&D value by tracking insertion of technologies across product lines (InspiRD can help)
  • Design off-ramps and integration of technologies along the path to full productization. This is what Chrysler SRT appears to have done successfully in case of Prowler.

What is Research, Development and Engineering (RD&E) Management?

As we have discussed in the past, different organizations include different processes and disciplines in Research and Development. We at InspiRD have started using Research, Development and Engineering (RD&E) as a generic term that includes technology development, product development and sustaining engineering.

Integrated management of RD&E can provide immense benefits to organizations…
Read More


Steve Jobs: Innovation is the only way to succeed

INSEAD Knowledge has published an interview with Steve Jobs from 1996 which has a few very important points for R&D managers:  Innovation is the only way to succeed – you can not cut costs to get out of problems.

“All I can say is I think it was true back when we built Apple and I think it is just as true today which is innovation is the only way to succeed in these businesses. You can’t stand still.
You can’t cut expenses and get out of your problems. You can’t cut expenses and get out of your problems. You’ve got to innovate your way out of your problems.

image from Insead Knowledge

So, lets dig in…
We have discussed many of these points in the past, but this interview provides a few more details.  First is the recurring theme of user-centric design – products should not require customers to learn underlying technology:

Well, one of the reasons I’m so interested in graphics is that it makes things accessible to people without them having to know how it works. So as an example, the Macintosh was really that – we used graphics to make it easy to use; it was the computer for the rest of us. And you didn’t really have to know all this computerese to use it because of the great graphics and user interface.

Even more interesting is the fact that Jobs took the same approach with Pixar: Movie goers should be able to enjoy the experience without worrying about 10 years of R&D that went into creating the movie. We have discussed this in detail in the post about focus on your niche.

And it’s the same way with Toy Story at a much higher level. An audience between 80 and 100 million people will hopefully see Toy Story by the time it rolls out throughout the world, and yet none of them had to read a manual before they saw the movie to appreciate it. None of them had to understand the technology and the ten years of R&D and investment that went in to be able to create that movie to enjoy it, and that’s what’s so wonderful.

Another foundation of successful R&D management is a long-term vision. Steve Jobs again demonstrates his ability to think long-term.  He was working towards removing keyboard input back in the mid 90s:

And I see more and more of that infusing society where you have a tremendous technology but it has a face which is very approachable and you don’t have to understand the technology to interact or use the product….

You know I think that’s the potential of the Internet. We’re certainly not there today. Typing an H-T-T-P slash slash colon w-w-w, you know, is arcane. I mean, you shouldn’t even need a keyboard to use the Internet but we still do. And I think we’ll get to where it really is very simple, but we have a few years to go.

The next lesson for us R&D managers is that of hands-on involvement.  An engaged leader is critical to motivating teams and delivering innovation (by overcoming problems such as valley of death).  Jobs was not had the vision of where products need to go, he was involved in detailed technology development and the business models that need to be developed to support the new technology.  In this case, he was developing a vision about iTunes in mid-90s…

We look at the internet and it looks very exciting to us, but we don’t see how to make any money from it. We haven’t seen any business models emerge where we can put content on the Internet and end up being rewarded for that. And since our talented people always have opportunities to work on things where we do get financially rewarded, we’re not about to take them off that and put them on the Internet until we see a business model that makes sense. And I think we will, you know, in the next one to two years.

 We have a lot of interesting posts about innovation management


Beliefs + Experimentation = Success

Another interesting article from MIT Sloan Review discusses how to develop unique strategies and plans.  The article points out that many organizations follow strategic frameworks taught in business schools to formulate their strategies.

…many deploy frameworks and models from the strategist’s toolbox — industry analysis, market segmentation, benchmarking and outsourcing. By jumping straight to generic game plans (such as cost leadership, total quality or product innovation), companies short-circuit the real work of strategy and miss out on finding new insights into the preferences or behaviors of current or potential customers.

If all we do is follow a standard process for developing a strategic plan, we would probably not be able to build a distinct, differentiated business:

In a world of fierce competition and rapid imitation, companies that dare to be different capture our attention and our admiration. Some are globally recognized, such as Apple, Google, Tata, Virgin and Zara; others are less well known, or are niche or local players.

The article points out that a good strategic plan starts from determining what are the organizations fundamental beliefs (or culture, values, points of view, differentiators, etc) that set it apart:

Good strategies start from a distinctive point of view: for example, an insight into evolving customer needs or about how the world is changing. 

However, what are our unique beliefs or viewpoints? It is not easy to figure out what are an organizations true cultural traits that lead to success and what are just approaches that we have developed along the way.
The article gives a good example of Ikea trying to figure out the root causes of its success:

Consider the case of Ikea, the Swedish furniture retailer that continues to be highly distinctive almost five decades after its founding in 1963. Built on Ingvar Kamprad’s belief that he could “create a better everyday life for the many people” by providing affordable, good-quality furniture, the company grew internationally in the late 1960s and early 1970s by replicating what worked in Sweden.7 However, Kamprad and his colleagues didn’t fully understand which parts of their offering people actually cared about: Was it the expansive and customer-friendly showrooms? Was it the low prices and the products requiring relatively easy assembly? Was it the quirky Swedish product names and blue-and-yellow branding? Ikea’s repeated success in new markets it entered made executives wary of changing any part of the original formula.

Differentiators are even harder to figure out in case of R&D.  Many organizations make strategic decisions based on gut feelings without really having an approach to guide decision making. As we have discussed many times, most companies tend to develop product strategies without careful thought or experimentation.

However, few companies manage to develop original strategies by formulating hypotheses and then testing them out in a competitive setting. 

In case of Ikea, market realities in United States and Japan forced them to understand what are their true core values.  :

It was only when the company experienced problems in Japan and the United States that executives undertook to sort out the truths and falsehoods and create a more flexible business approach. 

The article provides a new approach for discovering an organization’s discriminators by focusing on beliefs.

Our perspective is built on two core premises: 1) that companies need a unique set of beliefs to stand out from the crowd, and 2) that some beliefs ring truer with customers and employees than others.

As such the article focuses on three types of beliefs: 1) about the market, 2) about the internal culture, and 3) vision of the future:

Beliefs can take many forms, but the three most important ones are: 1) those that predict how the market will respond to the company’s strategic choices, such as a new technology or service offering; 2) those that predict how employees will respond to organizational and managerial choices, such as a more flexible or empowered working environment; and 3) those that predict how the future will be different, for example in terms of emerging consumer needs, new technological possibilities or shifts in the geopolitical system.

 The idea is that companies in any market segment will share some common beliefs.  However, each organization will also have some unique differentiators or uncommon beliefs.  Some of these beliefs are true  and others are false.  The true uncommon beliefs (uncommon sense) are key drivers of success.

However, no one really knows the whole truth, so the article provides a unique perspective on how to use all beliefs to gain a strategic edge. The article suggest we could discover our uncommon true beliefs and focus on them.  Or we could discard our uncommon false beliefs and again gain more strategic focus. We could also change the industry landscape by neutralizing commonly held beliefs.  Or finally, we can exploit commonly held false beliefs to maroon competitors and gaining market share.

So how does one actually find these beliefs in the first place? Once found, how does one evaluate whether beliefs are common or uncommon, true or false? It is very hard to do.  I guess by constantly challenging the status quo, being entrepreneurial and encouraging questioning.  May be we could focus on some innovation in management processes?

Finding a distinctive place in a competitive marketplace can be extremely challenging. Studying and working with dozens of companies across a range of industries, we have found that it frequently requires willingness on the part of top management to examine and re-examine the prevailing industry norms — and from a variety of perspectives.

 Once you have found your beliefs, the only path to success is experimentation:

So how do companies put ideas they develop through our process into action? Based on our experience, successful companies don’t just talk about their novel beliefs or make risky bets on unproven ideas. Instead, they rely on a deliberate process of experimentation. They turn one of their novel beliefs into an operational hypothesis and then test it in as low-risk a way as possible. The feedback they get from the market informs their further testing, ultimately shaping the company’s decision to make a tangible change.


Courier: R&D Planning & Portfolio Management at Microsoft

I have been meaning to write about development and cancellation of Courier, an innovative tablet concept from  Microsoft.  The c|net article on the subject provides quite a bit of useful information – both about innovation management best practices and some opportunities for improvement.  Courier was developed at Microsoft’s Skunkworks (Pioneer Studios).  They invested quite a bit of resources in the concept (130 employees and $25M in funding).  The concept was very well received (See Courier: First Details of Microsoft’s Secret Tablet in Gizmodo):

It feels like the whole world is holding its breath for the Apple tablet. But maybe we’ve all been dreaming about the wrong device. This is Courier, Microsoft’s astonishing take on the tablet.

However, they had to cancel the product because it did not fit into Microsoft’s product portfolio (See Microsoft confirms, kills Courier in one fell swoop — Engadget):

Well this is depressing. Word has just gone fluttering out of Redmond that work on the Courier project — a heretofore rumored dual-screen tablet which rightfully set the tech world ablaze — has been spun down by the company.

It is unclear which, if any, technologies developed as part of the innovation project ever got transitioned into the rest of the portfolio.  The cancellation led to significant organizational strife and hard feelings.  I think R&D managers can learn a lot from this event.

Courier’s death also offers a detailed look into Microsoft’s Darwinian approach to product development and the balancing act between protecting its old product franchises and creating new ones. The company, with 90,000 employees, has plenty of brilliant minds that can come up with revolutionary approaches to computing. But sometimes, their creativity is stalled by process, subsumed in other products, or even sacrificed to protect the company’s Windows and Office empires.

So lets dig in…
As we have discussed in the past (here and here), Microsoft’s portfolio process seems to be driven by senior executive champions. In case of tablets, there were two competing groups led by two senior executives working on competing products.

One group, led by Xbox godfather J Allard, was pushing for a sleek, two-screen tablet called the Courier that users controlled with their finger or a pen. But it had a problem: It was running a modified version of Windows.
That ran headlong into the vision of tablet computing laid out by Steven Sinofsky, the head of Microsoft’s Windows division. Sinofsky was wary of any product–let alone one from inside Microsoft’s walls–that threatened the foundation of Microsoft’s flagship operating system. But Sinofsky’s tablet-friendly version of Windows was more than two years away.

The senior executive ownership has some benefits: They get to ensure the product received the right kind of focus and resources to get it to market.  The approach may help overcome the valley of death in innovation maturation.  However, it also a key disadvantage: disconnected and conflicting projects in the R&D portfolio:

The Courier group wasn’t interested in replicating Windows on a tablet. The team wanted to create a new approach to computing.

The two lines of R&D were somewhat incompatible and underlying culture of executive champions prevented  integrated portfolio management.  Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, had to call in Bill Gates to determine the path forward.  Gates did a product review and did not come out in favor of the new innovation (because of how far it was from the traditional Windows/Office business model):

“This is where Bill had an allergic reaction,” said one Courier worker who talked with an attendee of the meeting. As is his style in product reviews, Gates pressed Allard, challenging the logic of the approach.

Within a few weeks, Courier was cancelled because the product didn’t clearly align with the company’s Windows and Office franchises, according to sources.

The cancellation had a significant immediate impact on Microsoft’s business:

Rather than creating a touch computing device that might well have launched within a few months of Apple’s iPad, which debuted in April 2010, Microsoft management chose a strategy that’s forcing it to come from behind. The company cancelled Courier within a few weeks of the iPad’s launch.

Furthermore, the move away from innovation had a long-term impact on the product development cycle and the product portfolio at Microsoft:

But using Windows as the operating system for tablets also implies that Microsoft will update the devices’ operating systems on the Windows time frame, typically every three years. Compare that to Apple, which seems likely to continue to update the iPad annually, a tactic that drives a raft of new sales each time a new generation hits the market. By the time Windows 8 rolls out, Apple will likely have introduced its iPad 3. Moreover, Amazon’s much anticipated Kindle Fire tablet, which goes on sale November 15, will have nearly a year head start on the Windows-powered tablet offerings.

So what if anything could have been done differently and what can we learn from this?  First, many companies try to overcome the bureaucracy of a large organization by creating skunkworks (See Nokia).  The idea was similar at Microsoft:

The gadget was the creation of Allard’s skunkworks design operation Pioneer Studios and Alchemie Ventures, a research lab that also reported to Allard. (The lab took the German spelling of “alchemy” to highlight the stereotypical Teutonic traits of structure and regiment it hoped to bring to its innovation process.)

However, Skunkworks like environments are hard to integrate into the overall culture.  They tend to become quite segregated causing many of the innovations wither on the vine:

Allard created a fantasyland inside Microsoft where Apple fanboys could tinker on stylish products that would never see the light of day. They point to the opulent 36,000-square foot office of Pioneer Studios, headquartered in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, that featured huge open spaces, dotted with cushy Eames lounge chairs, angular white desks, blond wood floors, and exposed brick walls. It may have been 16 miles from Microsoft’s far more corporate Redmond, Wash., campus, but it was a galaxy away in terms of workplace design.

Clearly, Pioneer studios had envisaged this scenario and tried to form project networks that brought innovation cultures to the rest of the company:

He encouraged employees to seek out new colleagues with diverse backgrounds who could challenge Microsoft’s conventions and push the company to approach new opportunities in different ways.

Microsoft made an effort to implement a structured innovation management process:

Allard created Alchemie to focus on innovation process to make sure that the efforts of Pioneer were not scattershot. It studied best practices, both within and outside Microsoft, to “design a repeatable, predictable and measurable approach for building new business” 

Additionally, they integrated some cutting-edge innovation management practices such as clear timeline for technology insertion and a stage gate process to ensure the innovation projects do not spin to far from reality:

In fact, one of the mandates of Alchemie was to look only at product ideas and business concepts that were no farther than three years into the future. The Alchemie book includes something of an innovation process road map that lays out four “gates” that ideas needed to pass through to move from incubation to product development. And a source said that Courier had made it through all four gates.

Another interesting concept they implemented was clearly defined purpose and freedom to explore new solutions:

“Infuse them with our purpose,” Allard wrote. “Give them the tools. Give them lots of rope. Learn from them. Support where they take you. Invite them to redefine The Tribe.”

The Courier team also had a well defined mission – Free Create – that further focus development:

The phrase at the core of the Courier mission was “Free Create.” It was meant to describe the notion of eliminating the processes and protocols that productivity software often imposes on workers.

The idea of Free Create was imbued into the entire development process – which is a great idea.  Not sure of the business case for traveling to Milan to understand Moleskine…

The metaphor they used was “digital Moleskine,” a nod to the leather-bound notebooks favored in the design world. In fact, according to a few team members, a small group led by Petschnigg flew to Milan, Italy, to pick the brains of the designers at Moleskine to understand how they’ve been able to create such loyal customers.

One more interesting concept about Innovation Management was implemented: Disconnected prototypes allowing different subsystems to mature separately. This approach is advantageous in that it allows more experimentation and we have seen that experiments boost productivity.  Steve Jobs followed a similar approach when developing the iPhone.

When Courier died, there was not a single prototype that contained all of the attributes of the vision: the industrial design, the screen performance, the software experience, the correct weight, and the battery life. Those existed individually, created in parallel to keep the development process moving quickly. Those prototypes wouldn’t have come together into a single unit until very late in the development process, perhaps weeks before manufacturing, which is common for cutting-edge consumer electronics design. But on the team, there was little doubt that they were moving quickly toward that final prototype.

It appears that the Courier team made significant progress (and used significant resources along the way):

Courier was much more than a clever vision. The team, which had more than 130 Microsoft employees contributing to it, had created several prototypes that gave a clear sense about the type of experience users would get.
It’s clear there were substantial resources behind the effort. The commemorative book, designed to resemble the journal-like look of the Courier, lists the 134 employees who contributed to the gadget’s creation. Moreover, Petschnigg writes on his LinkedIn profile page that he “managed $3.5 (million) seed funding, (and) secured $20 (million) to develop this new product category.”

However, there was a clear lack of coordination at the product portfolio level and there were no processes to align development plans across different product lines or R&D projects:

Early on, the group opted to use Windows for Courier’s operating system. But it wasn’t a version of Windows that any consumer would recognize. The Courier team tweaked the operating system to make sure it could perform at high levels with touch- and pen-based computing. What’s more, the graphical shell of Windows–the interface that computer users associate with the operating system–was entirely removed. So while it was Windows under the hood, the home screens bore zero resemblance to the familiar PC desktop.

This is a key problem with the Skunkworks innovation concept.  A separate culture quickly becomes insular and product lines divergences can not be reconciled:

“A big lesson is that it may be easier to go into your quiet space and incubate. But when you want to get bigger and get more resources, you want to make sure you’re aligned,” a Courier team member said. “If you get Sinofsky on board from the start, you’re probably going to market.”

So the challenge again appears to be with Microsoft’s R&D planning and portfolio management process.  It is relatively easy to become innovative (may be not $25M, but at least to some level), however, it is not easy to align product portfolios to bring innovation to market:

For Courier to come to life, the team creating it would have to convince the Microsoft brass that the device would offer the company substantial opportunities that Windows 8 could not. In the end, that proved to be too large a hurdle for J Allard, Courier’s leader and Microsoft’s chief consumer technology visionary. 

One way to address this challenge is to have more detailed R&D plans that can be shared and linked across different product lines.  These plans could have allowed teams to decide how they can bring different development paths together over time without an outright cancellation of Courier.  Well communicated plans and roadmaps could have facilitated collaboration between Courier and Windows 8 teams.  This collaboration could have ensured that more of the technologies developed under courier could have been integrated into Windows 8.  This unfortunately did not happen.

It’s unclear what, if any, pieces of the Courier technology are finding their way into other Microsoft products.

The only way any new innovation got introduced to Microsoft was through unmanaged diffusion:

Courier team members scattered. Many moved on to other products at Microsoft, such as Xbox, Windows Phone, and Bing.Others are involved with different incubation efforts at the company. 

A final lesson could be better portfolio management processes such as more frequent portfolio reviews where executives could have either reconciled development plans or eliminated the project before significant resources and emotions were invested:

And a few employees who contributed to the product’s development have left the company altogether, joining other tech firms such as Amazon, Zynga, and Facebook.


An example of a good R&D plan

As we have discussed in the past, R&D management is challenging because most new products require many technologies to mature simultaneously and many engineering disciplines to work together. The only real answer to effective R&D management is effective R&D plans.  R&D planning remains very hard and we have been discussing some approaches to address them.

  1. Good R&D plans have multiple milestones with clearly defined objectives at System AND Technology level.  These milestones bring constituent technologies together to evaluate / guide integration.  
  2. Good plans drive reuse of development between various development projects to reduce development costs and improve efficiency.  
  3. Good plans have multiple points of insertion from technologies into delivered products – i.e. Different subsystems from different development projects mature at different times and get inserted into delivered products.  These multiple insertion paths reduce long-term risks and improve return on investment.

I have been looking for good examples of effective R&D plans.  The article Mitsubishi Integrates Inverter With EV Motor System from Tech On discusses demonstration of a new product under development:

“Mitsubishi Electric Corp developed a motor system whose output power is more than 70kW for electric vehicles (EVs) by integrating an inverter and a motor on the same axis.”

This integration has many benefits including reduced volume, reduced weight and improved installation among others.

The integration enabled to shorten electric lines between the inverter and motor as well as to integrate pipes for water cooling that are required for each of the inverter and motor in the old system.
The mass of the new system is about 10% less than that of the old one. And the total efficiency of the new system is 3-5 points higher than that of the old system under the JC08 test mode.

This demonstrates one aspect of a good R&D plan: Clearly delineated objectives and goals.  These goals should be measurable so that progress can be evaluated at multiple points along the development pipeline. The company plans to commercialize the system only in 2017.  However, they are demonstrating some of the capabilities in the integrated system in 2012!  It is important to address integration challenges early and not wait till technology development is complete.

It is also important to identify major development hurdles and clearly define targets for technology development.  In this case, the company has identified heat from the inverter as the key challenge and identified multiple technology development paths to address it.  This clarity drives innovation:

Because the motor and inverter generate a large amount of heat, the company not only increased cooling capability but also made improvements to each of the motor and inverter to reduce heat generation. Specifically, it changed the magnetic design of the motor and employed a silicon carbide (SiC)-based power device for the inverter. With the SiC-based power device, the loss of the inverter was reduced by half, compared with the inverter of the old system that uses a silicon (Si)-based power device.

Since development of power devices is expensive, they have insertions of the SiC devices before the final system delivery.  Multiple insertion paths reduce the risk of wasted development effort:

The company aims to commercialize the system in 2017. And it plans to commercialize an EV motor system whose inverter using a Si-based power device and motor are separated in 2014.

Finally, there are incremental objectives for development at each stage, further enhancing management’s ability to monitor and guide R&D:

Currently, the motor system can be used for rotating tires and for simulated driving based on actual driving patterns in a laboratory. To commercialize the system, it is necessary to improve its structure for volume production, fine-tune it and further reduce its weight by 10 to 20%, Mitsubishi Electric said.


Roadmaps as a foundation for effective R&D management (Part 1)

I am writing a paper on the use of R&D plans as a foundation for effective R&D management.  As a part of the effort, I am collecting prior research on R&D planning and roadmapping.  I plan to summarize some of the interesting papers I find along the way.  The first is from a roadmap seminar given by two MIT professors at Harvard Business School in 2004.  It provides a good background on some work done on longer-term technology planning and touches upon near-term product planning.

Roadmaps provide a framework for thinking about the future. They create a structure for strategic planning and development, for exploring potential development paths, and for ensuring that future goals are met.

One reason for developing roadmaps is to address many sources of uncertainty in the face of complexity:

One must weigh many sources of uncertainty and try to comprehend how a large number of complex and dynamic factors might interrelate and influence development of a process or a technology. … Roadmapping is not the only tool for this type of strategic planning, but it is practical and straightforward in its approach and gaining increased attention and usage.

The article lays out two types of roadmaps: Exploratory and Target Driven.

Exploratory roadmaps are what are sometimes called Technology Push roadmaps that are envisioning emerging technologies.  These roadmaps are used to “Push” technologies into products without there being a well defined need for the technology’s benefits:

Exploratory Mapping is used as a framework to explore emerging technologies and to examine potentially disruptive technologies. The process creates a map of the technology landscape by surveying possible future scenarios. There is not necessarily consensus on the technology or its evolution at this stage.

It appears that some of the leading work on exploratory roadmaps was done at Motorola:

“Roadmaps provide an extended look at the future of a chosen field of inquiry drawn from the collective knowledge and imagination of the groups and individuals driving change in that field. Roadmaps include statements of theories and trends, the formulation of models, identification of linkages among and within the sciences, identification of discontinuities and knowledge voids, and interpretation of investigations and experiments.” – Robert Galvin

Roadmap implementation is hard, and data shows that less than 10% of R&D organizations use roadmaps.  In my experience, exploratory roadmaps are the prevalent form of roadmaps implemented.  They are used more like a marketing document for the technologists to get continuing funding rather than a real planning document (More on this in a future post). The other form of roadmaps is to communicate products under development: Target Driven Roadmaps:

Target-Driven Roadmapping used to drive toward a specific technical target. The technology objective is clearly articulated and there is a level of consensus on what the targets should be. The roadmap serves to drive innovation and resources toward reaching that end goal.

These can sometimes be called as Technology Pull roadmaps – where different technologies are “pulled” forward to satisfy specific market needs.  Some work has also been done in Target Driven roadmaps.

“Typically based on strategic plan requirements, roadmaps incorporate product attributes and layout goals, development requirements, allocations priorities, and defined evolution plans for flagship or core products and platforms.- Strauss, Radnor & Peterson

Even so, the roadmaps are still used mainly for communication rather than as a foundation for R&D management:

The output of the technology roamapping process is typically a product-specific roadmap which, in simple visual representations of hardware, software and algorithm evolution, links customer-driven features and functions to specific clusters of technologies.” – Strauss, Radnor & Peterson

This is borne out by the article as well.  They suggest that

While the processes and outputs of these two types of roadmapping can vary significantly,
there are common elements. Roadmapping requires:
– a social and collaborative process;
– an analytical method of assessing and planning future development;
– a means of communicating using visual or graphic representations of key targets or goals as a function of time.

Clearly, roadmaps do provide a structured foundation for R&D collaboration.  Although the second bullet mentions an analytical method for assessing R&D, I am yet to come across an organization that uses roadmaps for that purpose.  In fact, very little of the article is dedicated to the second point.  The article focuses on social / collaborative use of roadmaps and outlines a workshops-based process to develop roadmaps.  This seems to have become the primary form of roadmapping.  In many organizations I have visited, roadmapping has a tendency to become a bureaucratic check box and is hardly ever used for driving innovation.  In fact, most of the benefits of true roadmapping process outlined in the article (and described below) are hardly ever achieved.

1. Establish a vision for the future.

Roadmaps can definitely communicate a vision and is a great benefit of roadmaps.

2. Encourage systems-thinking. A comprehensive roadmapping framework forces the roadmap participants to think about technology development within the context of a larger system and aids better understanding of the linkages among technology, policy, and industry dynamics.

This is where structured target driven roadmapping becomes important.  In most physical systems, this is hard to do in a workshop / social environment.  Product development plans are complex and require knowledge of tens (if not hundreds) of engineers.  Organizations need better roadmapping processes that places technology roadmaps in a system context.

3. Planning and coordination tool. Roadmaps align technologies and products with market demand by representing the co-evolution of technology and markets. Roadmaps can help in uncovering common technology needs within an organization, enabling the sharing and consolidation of R&D, supply-line and other common resources

This is probably the most important benefit of roadmaps.  However, as President Eisenhower said, “Plans are worthless, planning is everything.”  Most roadmaps are static, kept in PowerPoint documents and revisited once a year (at best).  Hardly an effective foundation for planning and coordination.

4. Accelerate innovation. Roadmapping provides a better understanding of the potential paths for innovation, helping to visualize new opportunities for future generations of product developments. 

This is the critical and often overlooked benefit of roadmaps.  Innovation happens at the intersection of technologies (not just one technology).  So, an iPhone requires capacitive touch screen, low power electronics and user interface (among others) to come together for innovation to be delivered to market.  Nokia for example had a touch screen phone years before iPhone, but could not bring it to market.  Not only do the technologies need to mature simultaneously, all the related engineers need to know what others are capable of doing with them.  Roadmaps can allow all team members to understand the projected state of other technologies and hence drive innovation.  Since the number of technologies involved in modern systems is quite large, the workshop-based roadmapping process described in the paper is probably not sufficient to drive innovation.

5. Communications. Within corporations, roadmaps can provide a crucial link between management teams, marketing, engineering and R&D – improving communications and providing a clear sense of near term and long term targets. 

Pretty self explanatory and some what related to point 1.

My thesis remains that R&D plans can actually become a foundation for effective R&D management and can do much more than the five benefits outlined above.  Plans can help optimize resource allocation.  R&D plans can be used to measure and guide R&D operations.  They can also be used to forecast skill-set needs.  However, that will require plans that are a bit more controlled than those developed primarily for communication. More on this soon…