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Charting a route in uncertain times

April 4, 2012

Companies face multiple challenges when developing and implementing innovation strategies, having to deal with high levels of uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Roadmapping is a practical method that can help with these challenges, supporting communication and alignment of functional strategies.

The core concept is the structured visualisation of strategy, bringing together commercial and technical perspectives against a timeline [1]. This supports an integrated approach to strategy, connecting the actions taken today with the longer-term goals of the firm. Workshops often form an important part of roadmapping processes, bringing together key stakeholders and building consensus about the way forward.

The application of roadmapping is illustrated in the new book, Here be Dragons [2], where the knowledge gathered by the fictional FutureParts company in the Columbus Project Story is brought together in a roadmap format, providing a strategic view at key points in the cycle of renewal process [3]. The roadmap is updated periodically, capturing and summarising key learning, as a basis for reflection and action.

The FutureParts roadmap incorporates a timeline divided into three timeframes: current / near term (1 year budget horizon); medium term (3 year strategy horizon); and long term (10 year vision). A number of perspectives that are critical for successful innovation care incorporated: market, business, product, production, design & development, technology, and resources (organisation, culture, skills and partnerships). As strategic thinking matures the content captured within this framework develops and stabilises.

As a final step, once the detailed strategy and roadmap have been established, a simplified communication roadmap is developed. This highlights the vision for the future, including product, market, business and technical aspects, the current status, and how the strategic challenges facing the organisation can be bridged. This type of roadmap helps to communicate the strategy concisely to a wider range of stakeholders, such as shareholders and customers.

In this way, roadmapping can help organisations navigate through the turbulent competitive environment, towards future opportunities, while avoiding and mitigating threats.

Rob Phaal is on rp108@cam.ac.uk for more on roadmaps.

  1. Robert Phaal, Clare Farrukh and David Probert, Roadmapping for strategy and innovation: aligning technology and markets in a dynamic world, Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, ISBN 978-1-902546-82-7, 2010.
  2. Gill Ringland, Patricia Lustig and Rob Phaal, with Martin Duckworth and Chris Yapp, Here be dragons, Choir Press, 2012.
  3. Gill Ringland, Oliver Sparrow and Patricia Lustig, Beyond crisis: achieving renewal in a turbulent world, John Wiley & Sons, 2010.
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