Dr Robert Phaal, principal research associate in the Institute for Manufacturing’s Centre for Technology Management explains how a technique known as technology roadmapping can help bring commercial and technology perspectives into line.
Any organisation works best when everyone involved is working towards the same goals, especially true of manufacturing where getting a new product designed, manufactured and delivered to market requires many different departments to work together effectively.
Harmony can be particularly difficult to achieve between those on the development side of things and those with a more commercial perspective. Managers working on the front line will inevitably focus on the short and medium-term and on providing customers with the latest new idea. They may be less aware of the implications for those who have to solve the technological challenges.
Meanwhile, development professionals get absorbed in new technological breakthroughs but have less understanding of how their innovations can be translated into viable commercial products.
Failure to get the two sides to work together can result in budgets being spent on research that isn’t used, or new products that miss their launch date. A widely-used technique, known as technology roadmapping, originally developed by Motorola in the 1970s, provides an effective way to avoid this.
At its most basic, roadmapping involves creating large paper-bsed time charts. These should map the technology and other resources required for future products, linking these to business objectives and other milestones. The dependencies and linkages can be easily visualised – helping all those involved to come to a consensus about the best way forward.
The roadmaps are created in a workshop setting with representation from right across the company. The outputs from each workshop will be a prioritised set of innovation opportunities and strategic options for business units, combined with an understanding of the technologies needed to support these plans.
The priorities established during the roadmapping process can be compared to the existing R&D portfolio. Where existing programmes are identified that match the new priorities these can be strengthened. Conversely if a development project appears to have no link to business needs then the company can decide to focus efforts elsewhere.