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Cast a Vision: Four Steps to a Forward-Looking Technology Roadmap

You’ve probably heard that the future is going to be all about smart technology, and that the next ten years will be the most disruptive of all time.

These changes present a lot of opportunities for market incumbents and challengers, and they present a key question for all organizations: how might we win in the future? To meet the needs of future users, companies need an innovation process that’s built to anticipate disruptive technologies and develop a path to innovation.

This approach offers long-term advantages, but it’s not without challenges: technology is increasingly complex, the rate of change is faster than ever, and companies face information overload.

In order to meet the needs of future users, companies must anticipate disruptive technologies and develop a path to innovation.

As an insight-driven innovation lab, we help companies navigate these challenges and develop strategic approaches to disruption. We use an innovation process that starts with envisioning future scenarios by assessing business viability, consumer desirability, and technical feasibility. Then, we draft forward-looking technology roadmaps that plan for disruption.

These roadmaps support long-term innovation strategy while offering short-term goals and acting as a multidisciplinary communication and planning tool. We’ve refined our approach into a four-step process that we’ve outlined below. Each step entails multiple activities and requires rigorous analysis and research. (To learn about implementing your vision, read our post on Four Steps to Breakthrough Technical Innovation.)

The first step of the innovation process is "Envision: Develop Foresight in Technology"

1. ENVISION: Develop Foresight in Technology

The first step in our innovation process is to cast a vision. We begin by predicting what future scenarios might look like and how they might impact various industries. We use trend research to understand various macro-drivers. These might be economic, political, social, or even environmental. At Bresslergroup, we’ve identified 10 influential megatrends that help us systematically analyze the path forward.

We use scenario planning to imagine how megatrends will reshape an industry and how key players might respond to these megatrends. This allows us to translate uncertainties into scenarios of the future, and it helps us determine where a client might be able to seize an opportunity.

We use scenario planning to imagine how megatrends will reshape an industry and how key players might respond

For instance, in order to help an automobile technology manufacturer gain consumer foresight, we envisioned changes that cities might encounter in the next three, five, and ten years. This allowed us to predict potential mobility needs and to help the client develop strategies to meet those needs.

Tip: It’s important to look outside your industry at emerging technologies in other spaces. For instance, the technology making autonomous vehicles possible might change how consumers expect to have their food delivered.

The second step of the innovation process is "Strategize: Identify A Focus"

2. STRATEGIZE: Identify a Focus

For each of the scenarios you projected in the last step, you’ll want to consider what your core strengths and weaknesses are compared to your competitors. For this, you might use SWOT Analysis or host a strategic wargaming workshop with team members taking on the roles of various industry players.

Then, use your analysis to choose your preferred future — the scenario that’s a better fit for your company based on your strengths, a strategic direction, or lack of competition. The trick here is not to choose the most obvious scenarios. Instead, you want to consider if you have what it takes to nudge the industry and consumers toward your preferred future.

The trick here is not to choose the most obvious scenarios.

Once you’ve set your sights on a preferred future, you can use backcasting to plan the steps it will take to get there. This requires identifying innovation themes, or opportunities to use technology to create solutions for your ideal future scenario.

Tip: Before you embark on any project, ask yourself if it will have a place in the future you’re creating. You want to avoid developing a perfect tech solution that doesn’t serve an opportunity. For instance, Blackberry’s physical keyboard is a great technical innovation, but it’s a solution without market demand.

The third step of the innovation process is "Roadmap: Synchronize, Prioritize, & Plan"

3. ROADMAP: Synchronize, Prioritize, & Plan

To turn your strategy into a technology roadmap, you’ll need to work closely with your marketing, product strategy, and senior management teams. It’s important to get all the stakeholders involved in this part of the innovation process and to reach across departments to identify the factors and areas of support that your innovation will require.

Here, you should start to prioritize the needs that will influence your products and services. These might be user needs, technical needs, or market needs. To rank them, you might use a balance scorecard with customized criteria or an urgency-importance matrix.

Tip: In our increasingly complex technology world, no one company can create everything by itself. It’s important to identify which standards and platforms you want to adopt and what real estate you want to develop internally. Whatever technologies or features you decide to develop internally should be delighters and differentiators that set you apart from the competition.

The fourth step of the innovation process is "Iterate: Continuously Refine and Adapt"

4. ITERATE: Continuously Refine & Adapt

Roadmapping is not a “do it once and be done” activity. It is highly iterative and needs continuous updates, which may be planned, or unplanned in response to unexpected changes like the COVID-19 pandemic.

We begin testing right away. We believe in evidence-based innovation, and to reduce uncertainty, we validate our technology roadmap with qualitative and quantitative testing.

For instance, we use surveys to evaluate different tech innovations. This might help a client decide if they should continue to innovate a technology that could produce great consumer value but might be outdated, or if they need to reprioritize their efforts.

Tip: You can reduce risk by identifying conditions or events that could make your technology roadmap irrelevant or obsolete — for instance, a dramatic increase in the cost of materials, a breakthrough in a competing or adjacent technology, or changes to rules and regulations. You might decide to evaluate the likelihood of those changes occurring, develop a strategy to mitigate impact, or identify warning signs that would require a shift in your innovation roadmap.

A Good Roadmap is Forward-Thinking, Integrated, Adaptable, Differentiated, & Relatable

A good technology roadmap is forward-thinking — it goes beyond two- or three-year projections. It’s integrated, reaching across disciplines and departments to avoid silos. It’s adaptable, so that it can respond to unexpected changes. It’s differentiated enough to utilize your company’s strengths and to address any weaknesses, and it’s relatable in a way that communicates the technology roadmap to a wide range of audiences.

Developing a technology roadmap is a rigorous process. But if you want to lead disruptive technology innovation, it’s essential to develop this level of foresight. This four-step innovation process is a great way to start.

This post was adapted from the webinar, “Technological Innovation: Casting the Vision.” Watch the recording.

If you liked this post you might also like, Implement the Vision: Four Steps To Breakthrough Technical Innovation.