Innovation is about moving an organization forward. But many companies are trying to get there without an execution plan; without any way to assess the how, why, where, what and when, and to adjust when the unexpected comes along (as it always does). Those involved with innovation planning are increasingly understanding that the answers are found in product line roadmapping – a critical front-end process that has finally come of age.

Almost every product manager, technology manager, marketing manager, supply chain manager, operations manager and strategic planner knows about roadmapping. But few have had the organizational support to conduct it superbly specific to a product line and are, therefore, left with an uninformed innovation planning process. In fact, more than half of the survey respondents in the Fourth Product Portfolio Management Benchmark Study reported that their “product portfolios are not aligned well enough with company strategies and objectives, creating numerous pain points that include ineffective decision-making (53%)” (Maureen Carlson, “The Results Are In: Product Leaders Report a Need for Speed and a Roadmap to Sustainable Innovation.)

A product line roadmap aligns product portfolios to the company strategy and is the execution plan used to ensure that innovation investments are properly assigned and supported. The roadmap is a foundational component of the strategic planning process that can “foster innovation by forecasting the elements needed to address future technological needs or market demands” {Bryan Seyfarth, “Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Process of Roadmapping.”

Product portfolios are not aligned well enough with company strategies and objectives, creating numerous pain points that include ineffective decision-making.

Taking on the commitment to cross-departmental product line roadmapping aligns vision and informs decision making – particularly when it comes to what to innovate; when; how…those key questions that need answering. It also enables flexibility. When you know where you’re going and why, it is much easier to wisely select the right detours when needed and to know how and when to get back on the planned track.

Innovation is inherent

While there are many types of roadmaps (e.g., customer-centric, supply-chain centric, technology centric), it is product line roadmapping that establishes the plan for the progression of a full line of products specifically to increase or sustain market penetration and, presumably, to beat the competition. While many may add the word “strategic” or “innovation” before roadmapping, we’ll presume that for our purposes of innovation planning, these elements are inherent to the process of product line roadmapping (where our goal is a true, cross-functional roadmap not just a project plan).

What sets product line roadmapping apart in the world of products is its centrality to both creating product line strategy and coordinating the execution of that strategy by informing the innovation planning process. This approach includes input and collaboration across departments such as R&D, innovation, marketing, product development, and IT. Additionally, the product line roadmap provides an integration of all of the roadmaps (some, therefore, would refer to it as a type of “combined roadmap”) with specific focus on a product line. And core to any product line strategy is a platform, which in turn makes the platform the core of the product line roadmap. The combined nature of the product line roadmap shows up as linking the advances of technologies that add value (presumably through features to a platform) and, in turn, the progression of changes in markets and customer needs sets – the keys to identifying and enabling the right innovations at the right time.

Impact on innovation planning

Product line roadmapping has substantial benefits across the business as outlined in my recent article, The Profound Impact of Product Line Roadmapping, where I document how this one process offers organizations the opportunity to double the impact (i.e., the bottom line performance) of a product line when compared to the base case of not doing roadmapping. For our current discussion, however, we’ll stay focused on the impact on innovation planning:

  1. Innovation plans become achievable. Conducting product line roadmapping enables organizations to create realizable product line strategies. Innovation tied to a focused product line strategy is enormously more powerful than one-off product plans. I will caveat this to say that where one-off innovation does look much more attractive is when that innovation sets up a new platform that may be extended to a line of ensuing offerings. In other words, this is when the one-off innovation spurs the creation of a new product line roadmap and an intelligent product line strategy. From a product orientation, it is the game plan for winning against competitors.
  2. Increased speed to innovation. Inability to speed innovation to market was again reported as a top pain point in the PPM benchmark study {Carlson, “The Results Are In: Product Leaders Report a Need for Speed and a Roadmap to Sustainable Innovation”}. This is yet another way roadmapping empowers innovation – product line roadmaps improve speed-to-market due to shared vision, alignment, collaboration and coordination.It is the product line roadmap, i.e.,the execution plan of product line strategy, that enables the minimization of latency (i.e., lost time) of a full product line buildout.
  3. Builds responsiveness into the Innovation Plan. An organization’s ability to address the uncertainty associated with product development and product management is critical to success in both the short term and the long term. A critical element of product line roadmapping is specific and thoughtful scenario planning, which generates the content of what-if explorations of uncertainty. During the scenario building work within product line roadmapping, participants gain a grasp of the uncertainty – charting a course for what should work and recognizing what may be problematic. This is the basis of the product line roadmap. When something new comes in (e.g., a new technology, a specific new product concept, a threat, a change in customer behavior), the roadmap provides a baseline against which to evaluate it – is it a new innovation opportunity that aligns with strategy or a threat to existing product plans? Using product line roadmaps, managers can quickly evaluate change and decide on actions that may alter the roadmap or even create new roadmaps based on a new platform.
  4. Aligns the product portfolio with company strategies and objectives enabling successful and appropriate innovation. In portfolio management, a portfolio analyst will try to analyze the mix of projects within the portfolio by asking: “Is this portfolio ‘balanced’?” Because an established roadmap is tied to the product line strategy, the question becomes:“Does this set of projects fulfill the needs of the roadmap?” Answering this question then ties that portfolio decision right back to the company strategy and objectives. What’s more, when new opportunities arise, whether through the CEO having a brainstorm or proactive open innovation practice, the relevancy of the project within the roadmap can be assessed and judged very quickly.Innovation is planned and informed by the roadmap!

A process whose time has come

It sounds simple to say that an informed innovation plan is significantly more likely to succeed in delivering market-differentiating results than an uninformed plan, but that’s the bottom line. And it is through the cross-departmental development of a product line roadmap that the relevant information, contributors, and steps to inform and execute an innovation plan are put into place. The results can be improved speed to market, responsiveness to market changes, alignment across the business, and, at the end of the day, an innovation plan that is achievable.

Next steps

To learn more about product line roadmapping, download these resources:

Articles:  The Profound Impact of Product Line Roadmapping   and  Maturing NPD Practices Beget New Processes

Whitepaper: Strategizing, Roadmapping and Executing the Product Line

Participate in an upcoming workshop: Strategizing and Roadmapping the Product Line

By Paul O’Connor

About the author

Paul O’Connor, founder and managing director of The Adept Group, has been a major force and a creative voice in the field of new product development (NPD) for 25+ years. During this time, he has developed and implemented a number of innovative approaches to creativity, innovation, and productivity in NPD and is a leading expert on product line roadmapping. His clients include a wide range of global companies across industries.

The Adept Group

The Adept Group helps organizations increase the productivity of New Product Development investments. We couple knowledge, experience, consulting skills, and software tools to lead and assist clients around the world in improving their product development productivity. We help organizations develop and improve their capabilities to do the “right products right.”

The Adept Group focuses on NPD productivity delivered by leveraging our capabilities on three professional service platforms:

  • Knowledge Sharing (Specialized workshops, Workout sessions and Summits)
  • Facilitative Consulting (Focused on productivity and value creation)
  • Software and Enablers (RiskAssessor™, PortView™, RoadMappingRampUp™, PPM Analytics, and software selection and enabling services)

For more information, visit the Adept Group website.

Photo: Business roadmap from