Planning for strategic roadmapping

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About with forethought, good planning for your strategic innovation roadmap will dramatically increase outcomes. This article covers some good practices to take on board immediately.

Value: improve your preparation, running and outcomes of your strategic roadmapping project.


Strategic Roadmapping to increase successful innovation outcomes

There are several advantages to roadmapping as an approach to strategic thinking and planning.

It’s an “agile” tool, meaning it’s a quick-to–start exploration of a topic with an experimental ethos. And it is easy to adjust the strategic question being explored if it turns out to be wrong.

Roadmapping is “scalable” in that we can operate a roadmap exercise at almost any level of abstraction we choose.

For example, at the corporate level, a level down in the divisions, the business units and the product teams. And it’s “flexible” in the types of topics that can be explored.

So the main message is to, well, Start.

In the last 15 years or so serious academic effort for example by Rob Phaal of the Institute for Manufacturing at Cambridge University has been put in to understand what makes roadmapping work (Rob; Phaal, Farrukh, and Probert 2011).

The results of that research are a solid academically-underpinned body of work that produces robust foundations for the practice of strategic roadmapping in complex organisations and situations. The so-called Cambridge School of roadmapping has been deployed thousands of times in a wide range of strategic thinking purposes and situations.

Roadmapping is primarily delivered through the medium of facilitated workshops and the principle of “getting the right people into the room”.

How would one go about filling in the information and elements of a landscape en route to producing a Roadmap? Here are the high-level steps,

ONE: Decide the topic scope aims and pre-design the strategic landscape.

TWO: Identify the sources of information including expertise: Who are the “right people in the room?” and identify any gaps to be plugged by others.

THREE: Quickly start to assemble information and identify high-potential solutions.

FOUR: Synthesise and summarise your first-pass answer in a visualised graphic.


The main phases of a roadmapping project: Before, during and afters

Let’s explore what I call the Before, During and Afters of a workshop or the design, the facilitation and the post-workshop information structuring and communication.

In the design phase, the roadmap owner or sponsor is a key stakeholder in the whole process.

Arguably, they have the most to gain and the most to lose. As a persona, they could be one of our Innovation Heroes. There has to be a motive or an objective for generating a roadmap; spending the organisation’s time and money has to be much more than that expended on business as usual and much more than doing nothing. The roadmap owner will, therefore, want to make progress around the strategic theme and for creating much more value for the venture in the future.

The design also needs to consider both the type of information and how it is captured. Using pre-configured information capture templates, we bring the right information together from the workshop delegates efficiently and effectively. This point comes from research on roadmapping process methodology and the use of self-facilitating templates (Robert Phaal et al. 2016).

The goal of the design phase of a roadmapping workshop or wider project is to make sure that delegates and stakeholders understand and are well prepared to bring their best thinking into the process.

From the perspective of roadmapping as primarily a people-driven event, then you have people inside the room, in terms of delegates invited for their expertise. We’ve also got people outside the room such as the wider stakeholders in the roadmap. These wider stakeholders may be budget holders or functional owners that will help make the ideas for solutions and technologies are reality. They can include stakeholders like a director of HR or organisational development who’s interested in the future capability they will need to develop.


Next, the matters related to “During”.

Considering how the process or workshop will be conducted.  In most cases, a facilitator is employed.

A facilitator could be a member of an innovation team who has good process and facilitation skills. Another choice is to bring in an external and neutral facilitator who is an expert in large group facilitation and has no agenda other than to facilitate the topic and task at hand and to get the most out of the participant’s time together.

Research into roadmapping processes has looked into the human factors in play.

More specifically, we have to know about and manage the psychological and social aspects of a group and the numerous complex cognitive factors and social interactions going on. The power of roadmapping comes from these group interactions and enables the group members to connect, prioritise and communicate with each other. One role of the facilitator is to bring the best out of the participant’s contribution.

Although the clarity of workshop and process objectives is set in the design phase, in the workshop itself, on the day, the facilitator must continually make sure that delegates avoid distractions that can get in their way. There can be plenty to distract. Not being fully present in the room because of reading emails and taking calls phone can be a major distraction.  Encourage delegates to switch off but build breaks into making sure they can check in, especially if an important issue behind the scenes is needing their attention.

Other distractions to effective group work are the workshop process itself. Blocking is a term from brainstorming where delegates can’t be heard in time and lose potentially important and creative thought. Cognitive overload can overwhelm even smart individuals getting stuck with overthinking and becoming distracted by irrelevant task behaviours. Decision-making can breed anxiety. The facilitator has to help and drive the process quite hard while knowing when to leave space for participants to discuss and think.

Finally, in terms of the Afters; this is about the post-workshop communications. First, there is the job of the roadmap owner to communicate what happened; the key messages. If we can think about a picture speaking a thousand words, the culmination of a roadmapping workshop is a way to positively influence people that were not in the room.

An outcome frequently seen in my consulting work is to motivate a change to occur; to find funding and resources, and take different directions in the organisation. Effective communication starts at the planning phase. We need the roadmapping Process Designer to think about information and stakeholder needs upfront. Considering what that communication needs to say, what is the narrative – the story to tell and to whom.

Planning your roadmapping project

Establish clarity about the purpose of the roadmap project and fully understand the motivation and its scope. This is not about having the answer to pre-ordain the roadmap but establishing the terms of reference.

One of the things that can go wrong is having too wide a scope for a single exercise. So consider if you need to limit the scope, or even break down the process into multiple tracks or workshops. Be clear about the objectives and the outcomes and its high-level calls to action such as a funding call, a policy objective or a product line update.

Planning your innovation roadmap
Planning your roadmap

Also in the preparation phase, map out who are the stakeholders for this road map and consider their individual needs for information objectives and motivations. You are then able to identify and position the participants; experts inside and outside of the company that need to help in the preparation of the workshop and the roadmap.

Consider how facilitation will be done – I assume there will always be a facilitator. Choosing this person or perhaps a facilitation team is a critical decision. It’s not a good idea that a novice facilitator tackles a critical strategic topic for the first time. You might need to provide the novice with the necessary training in roadmapping practice as a minimum. If the output is particularly important consider the safe pair of hands of hiring an experienced external facilitator or facilitators if it’s a particularly large workshop. Smaller-sized workshops are in the range of 8-20 people whereas large workshops at a sector or corporate level can run from 50-100 participants.

Now think about the process for the workshop.

What will the preparation require? How long will it take? Are there multiple sections to the topic that need to be broken into individual sections? How will all of the information be integrated? Is there a need for graphical artists to produce the final roadmap?

Consider the structure of the workshop days and the timetable and the number of days required. Does the process need to be split into subjects or time?

The use of preconfigured templates as a way to rapidly elucidate information and help delegates focus their creative energy on their thinking rather than the workshop process. These should be prepared or selected before the workshop. You can access several templates via the link in the further reading.

Planning also considers what happens after the workshop. The roadmapping project owner should be prepared for a considerable challenge in handling all of the information coming out of a workshop, which is compounded in multiple workstream projects. I advise you in the days after to quickly have the raw information transcribed to secure the participant’s hard work. This keeps it fresh and prepares you to validate the output for reporting.

When the draught overall strategic landscape and topic roadmaps produced in the workshop are transcribed, they should be validated. This means the participants or more likely subset from the workshop go through to output to check, correct and clarify any items that need to be.

The roadmapping owner is then in an ideal position to create a summary report and for that to be circulated to the participants for their review and improvement.

The standard of the report is a consideration that includes the readers and organisational needs. Reporting is just one part of communication and there is a wide range of tools readily accessible to most roadmap owners; video reports, audio podcasts, dedicated websites, ideas management software, social media, and the list goes on.

Now having considered the essential features of your planned roadmap let’s turn our attention to good practices to make sure that you get the very best from the process.

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Rob Munro delivers strategic innovation services to companies, universities and government agencies giving business and innovation leaders the practices, tools and confidence to achieve best-in-class innovation results. Please contact me to discuss ways to bring greater effectiveness to your innovation processes.

Read more about my service to organisations for innovation planning in improving innovation results.



Further reading

Phaal, Robert, Clive Kerr, Imoh Ilevbare, Clare Farrukh, Michèle Routley, and Nikoletta Athanassopoulou. 2016. On ‘Self-Facilitating’ Templates for Technology and Innovation Strategy Workshops. 8. Centre for Technology Management Working Paper Series. Cambridge.

Phaal, Rob;, Clare; Farrukh, and David; Probert. 2011. Roadmapping for Strategy and Innovation. Cambridge: Institute for Manufacturing.