“Roadmapping is something that kind of flies under the radar and once you actually use it in your organization, it can bring tremendous benefits.”
In this episode, Dr. Clemens Chaskel, Industrial Associate for IfM Engage (part of the Institute for Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge) initiates us into the secrets of roadmapping. As a true expert in this field, he provides first-hand tips on what to consider and what to avoid when implementing roadmaps. We also highlight the key questions that everyone involved in roadmapping should have an answer to sooner or later.
Below you will find the full transcript for the episode.
About roadmapping and sustainability
Chris: Hi, and welcome back to the Innovation Rockstar interviews. My name is Chris Mühlroth, and in this episode, I am pleased to welcome Dr. Clemens Chaskel from the Institute for Manufacturing the IfM at the University of Cambridge. Clemens' passion is everything about innovation, and he is a renowned expert in strategic roadmapping and portfolio management, as well as when it comes to implementing management processes and tools in the technology strategy of companies, of course in a sustainable way. So, Clemens, we have known each other for quite a few years now; so I am very happy that you are my guest today.
Clemens: Thanks, Chris. It's a pleasure to be here.
Chris: All right. We start with a short sixty seconds introduction sprint about you and your work at the University of Cambridge. So we start your sixty seconds now.
Clemens: I'm originally an aerospace engineer, and after finishing my master's, I started my career at Rolls-Royce, just outside of Berlin in Dahlewitz. During my time there, I began to be interested in manufacturing management. I went back to university to complete another master's degree at Cambridge that focused on industry, systems and management topics. After that, I went down the consulting route and started working on R&D projects in the aerospace and automotive sectors. I noticed a detachment between innovation work and overarching strategies. That awareness led me to once more go back to university, leave the consulting work behind and start a Ph.D. in Cambridge to deeply dig into the area of technology and innovation in sufficient detail to understand how to help organizations leverage that aspect more efficiently.
Chris: Perfect. Thanks for that great summary. Next, I have three sentence starters that I would like you to complete. The first sentence is: "Recently, I was inspired by…."
Clemens: Many things. It's hard to nail it down to just one. However, if I had to pick, I would say that companies that take sustainability seriously inspire me the most.
Chris: Great answer. Number two: "Virtually no one at the University of Cambridge knows that I…"
Clemens: I'm a co-founder of a fintech.
Chris: All right. They sure do know now. Last but not least, number three: "The next big disruption will be…."
"I think that will be the next disruption that sustainability makes its way into every person's life, not just at a corporate level."
Clemens: There are a lot of burning issues in this world that I haven't been aware of, and the entire notion of sustainability is picking up traction. It's no longer a thing taught at a high level, but something people are starting to feel and think about more. I think that will be the next disruption that sustainability makes its way into every person's life, not just at a corporate level. Still, every person will have to deal with it in one way or another.
Basics of roadmapping
Chris: Great answer. Thanks for that. As you know, in this episode, it's all about roadmapping and sustainability, too. Let's get started with the basics of roadmapping first. What exactly is road mapping, and what does it involve?
Clemens: Roadmapping is essentially something I call a multi-layered approach. It depends on what level you're looking at it. Still, it provides you with powerful and practical means of addressing the widespread pain point in various industries by bringing clarity into the organization and aligning strategy, long-term planning, innovation and foresight activities. Since that is always discussed and considered by numerous teams with different people, roadmapping brings all of that together into one coherent strategy. That isn't anything new since the view on that approach has been around for decades, and it's been pioneered by companies like Motorola, BP and Philips. I mean, even NASA has used it or is using it. However, the strategic aspect is something that not many people are aware of. It's more prominent within the technology domain and in product management, but hardly at a corporate level. I bet that even MBA students will never hear about it during their MBA courses. It's something that kind of flies under the radar, but once you fully leverage it within your organization, it can bring tremendous benefits.
Chris: Right. That makes total sense. My question to you is, how does it all work? It sounds like a complex set of activities, and orchestrating these activities must be challenging. Could you possibly provide us with a brief high-level summary of how roadmapping works?
Clemens: Roadmapping is actually quite simple. Think of it as a strategic element in the early stages and visualize and summarize it on one page. That one-pager contains everything you need to know about your strategy, the reason behind it and what pain points it attempts to address. The page should also have answers to: What measures are we putting to address the previously mentioned pain points, and what resources do we need? What's our timeline? These questions will inevitably expand the scope as you drill in and may require you to create another road map or merge multiple road maps into one. But either way, the beauty of it is that whenever you're creating additional roadmaps, they are not standalone documents but have overlap, which is part of this entire roadmapping process. For instance, if you are evaluating and decide on creating a technology roadmap for a particular division, then there should be direct tie-in points with your product roadmap, and it, in turn, should be tied to your corporate roadmap and so on, which will allow for full transparency of your strategic pursuits across your firm. That clearly shows why and how something is done and makes communication with stakeholders easier, especially those who call the shots.
Chris: That's a great point when you mention the people who call the shots. Would you say these activities are from the top-down or bottom-up? Maybe they are both?
Clemens: It could be both or none of the two. When we're talking about a roadmap, we're essentially trying to answer six questions. First: Why do we want to do something? For example, the organization might be aiming for a specific outcome or new competitors are entering our strategic ecosystem, which causes a change in people's behaviors. Those are all triggers that compel us to do something different and achieve that, and we need first to understand where we want to go and why. Once that has been established, then we have to think about how we'll get to our chosen future outcome. What steps are required? As is always the universal truth, nothing is free. What are our resource needs, and how do we best put them to achieve our goals? Then, we have to consider whether we are taking a top-down or bottom-up approach to get the necessary traction. Sometimes we are very clear about what our technological capabilities are within the firm, and since we are very technology-driven, that would be seen as a technology push; thus, we could start at the bottom and assume that since we have already a solid technological base, we can push for certain things confidently and work our way up. Another point of view would be from the market, where we are aware of a specific pain point that we are observing in our customers. For example, something they want might not be available, or anticipated legislative changes will force us to do business differently to be compliant. What would we have to consider at the product or the technology level to actually comply with that? That would be a case to work from the top down. For simplicity, we tend to start from the top-down as it is more target orientated and easier to listen to and spot pain points from that angle. That approach does not immediately imply coming up with a brand new product but instead tweaking our business models for innovation and introducing a service rather than a product. That provides us with a lot more flexibility.
Chris: I would imagine it also helps determine who should be involved, right? Speaking of which, who is typically applied and in what part of the process?
"I'd like to tell my clients that if you're not sure whether a person's involvement is required or not, invite them and if they get bored they can always leave the room."
Clemens: Biggest challenge you have is that you don't involve enough people. I'd like to tell my clients that if you're not sure whether a person's involvement is required or not, invite them and if they get bored they can always leave the room. Foremost, those who need to be involved are senior management with their support because we're talking strategy. Whenever we're talking about a strategy, we need to have the backing from the organization to drive it forward and ensure that people put enough effort and time into it to make it all work. The worst thing is when the senior leadership is not convinced by a roadmap or any other form of strategizing activity, and you turn up to the workshops and half of the senior management couldn't be bothered to show up, because business as usual got in the way and won them over. It's also imperative to bring in cross-functional experts, even if we work on a technology roadmap. We cannot rely on just having technology-savvy people in the room because, quite likely, they might not understand the product platforms or even the product strategy. They might not understand the consumers' pain points or the firm's financial planning. It's not that they aren't smart enough to do that, but it's not part of their role. Suppose nobody provides them with the big picture by communicating. In that case, they will create a strategy solely based on their understanding, hence why we need that cross-functional involvement.
Chris: That's certainly a great way not to align people with the strategy but also to give room for innovation. Clemens, the other day I was googling you and came across an interesting quote from you on a website or magazine called 'themanufactured.com.' I guess it was from 2018. Your section states: "We regularly find that organizations undertake an annual strategy exercise." You put strategy in quotes, “and then create a strategic roadmap and not implement the objectives fully or thoughtfully. Hence, they repeat the same exercise the following year and come to the same conclusions.” So, for me personally that sounds pretty bad. How bad is it actually and how can that be overcome?
Clemens: That's an article I wrote together with my colleague John Size, one of the chief technology officers at NASA and joined our consulting team in Cambridge shortly after. In any case, the problem that we're seeing is that strategy can often be a bit of a dull or a detached topic for some; it's very much prevalent when senior management talks about synergies, portfolio optimization and all those other buzzwords. The downside is that any party outside that management circle, someone from R&D who leads a team, is not interested since they simply want to get a task and get it done. The challenge here is how do we get them involved and excited about strategy? One of the things that we want to avoid, but that is, unfortunately, happening quite often, is that once a year, e-mails are sent out asking staff to inform management about their capacities and projects they are working on and creating a lot of PowerPoint decks. Once management gets them, they'll do some data crunching and then convey their conclusions back to you with their vision of a strategy, all that without ever having involved you directly.
Chris: The annual strategy and innovation creation process, correct?
Clemens: Exactly. Then what happens after is that most will say that they already have a lot on their plate and will only put some attention to the strategy in a couple of months, when it's more pressing. Not much happens then over the year, as is often the case in R&D since they're trying to put out proverbial fires left and right and have little time for strategy, which fades into the background. We need more passion to avoid the trappings of that business as a usual model and repeat the same exercises repeatedly. Don't get me wrong, and when I'm working on consultancy and the client comes back to me and insists on repeating the same actions for the next year, I'm the last one to complain. However, even for me as a consultant, it's a bit disappointing when we are applying the same coating, which then triggers questions from my research colleagues about why they are plotting the same course or whether they had overlooked something that I am getting at is that we need to try to bring about change via solid change management and apply that in strategic thinking. Roadmapping can most definitely assist with that, and gradually they'll adopt that mindset and way of working; thus, I wouldn't need to be involved anymore since they'd be fully on board.
I'd transfer the message to them, and they would know what to do with it. That's the kind of involvement I would like to see, and making strategic thinking no longer such a detached exercise. You tell me what you have, I tell you what kind of approach to pursue, and we'll get different stakeholders involved from product management, R&D, from anywhere in the organization. When everyone from top to bottom is involved, then strategy does not just remain within the domain of upper management, but it's something everyone had their hand in and agreed on. Since they were involved from the get-go, the message and communication are clear. They don't have to be told about it anymore but can immediately implement that, which is critical to them and the firm overall.
Chris: That's most likely the most viable way to professionally and adequately up roadmapping. However, once the process is established, how can everyone stay current and on the same page continuously?
Clemens: That's a good question. We've looked at it from the research side for quite some time, and my colleague Rafael, director of research in Cambridge, has worked on roadmapping for over twenty years now. He found an effortless way of doing it. He's calling it roadmapping roadmapping or simply R-squared.
Chris: Roadmapping roadmapping?
"The point is to avoid creating bad strategies, and that's why roadmapping is helpful. It isn't the all-knowing answer, but it's an effective tool or process and can lead to a better innovation system that's specially configured to address your pain points."
Clemens: It's essentially where we are using the whole roadmapping methodology by leading our clients and our partners through a very tightly facilitated roadmapping process. We follow a standardized process applicable at all levels from creating innovation or product strategies. The vital point here is that the roadmapping considers the firm's innovation ecosystem and is revisited consistently when creating strategy. That means we're looking at some important topics, such as innovation maturity. How do we move on from that? What kind of stakeholders from inside the firm do we need to have involved?
Most importantly, why do you even want to do roadmapping? The point is to avoid creating bad strategies, and that's why roadmapping is helpful. It isn't the all-knowing answer, but it's an effective tool or process and can lead to a better innovation system that's specially configured to address your pain points. It could help identify weak areas that need more attention, such as slow innovation progress.
Chris: It's great to have you as a great advocate on this topic. If you don't mind me asking, is the University of Cambridge actually doing roadmapping?
Clemens: Yes, we are. We're doing roadmapping at various fields within our institute. That reminds me of one of my clients; I've been working with them for a couple of weeks in China on-site, and the topic of change management came up, and we both agreed that it's necessary. He mentioned that he's hosting many workshops for his staff that have been going on for several weeks, and I broached the idea of hosting a corporate barbecue for them, but with a twist. Everyone had to chip in, and then we used roadmapping to create the strategy and the logistics for that barbecue, which may sound silly at first. Still, it shows how simple this approach can be if it's used correctly. Because we said essentially, why do we want to have a barbecue? It's not to feed people. They have food everywhere, but it's for increasing the communication between different hierarchies who typically don't talk. Increasing motivation, giving them something back for their efforts and making them feel appreciated. Which then leads us to the question: Well, what do we want to do? Because just grilling something isn't the critical thing. There need to be some games involved. They need to be some social activities that need to be some music. And then we need to think, Well, what are the resources for making that work? Who is taking care of what? What kind of supply chains do we need to put in place to ensure that this part is working well? So it's the same questions that we ask ourselves at the corporate level that we're asking ourselves for a barbecue, just at a different level of granularity.
Chris: Love it. Playfully introducing roadmapping is a clever approach. You can impart the process of asking strategic questions and getting the strategic thinking going even when the whole exercise is a company BBQ. I would like to get some pro tips if you don't mind. Let's get some pro tricks, right? What's the one mistake you have to avoid at all costs, and why?
Clemens: It's the typical scenario of going from zero to hero and expecting it in one attempt. It's so easy to develop a high-level, super complex strategy and either difficult to implement or spirals out of control from a cost perspective. That's the one thing organizations need to avoid. This scope creeps in when we're just trying to develop a simple technology strategy and start getting lost in the details and gold plating. It just derails the whole process, and you end up losing sight of the tree from the forest. We can't just create a strategy to cash in on the financial or motivational payback. Because of that, it's imperative to focus on pain points that the strategy can address in terms of minimum viable products or projects. It's the small wins that help you to propel yourself forward.
Chris: Great. You'll be happy to know that we also conduct such discussions here at our company. We must constantly challenge our beliefs and ensure that we are working on something feasible and viable for ourselves and, foremost, the client and partners we work with. The inherent danger is to spin your wheels in discussion and not address the fundamental questions. I guess that is also what you do with your clients and partners and start with a preliminary conversation first, rather than jumping right in and reaching immediately for the low-hanging fruits when it comes to strategy?
Clemens: Absolutely. I think this is where roadmapping comes into its own because when we are looking at our strategy on a timeline, then at the end, we have our big vision, which often is a bit fluffy and far-fetched. We then break it down into some tangible goals, and we distribute those goals along the timeline and try to figure out where those low-hanging fruits are. What can we rapidly achieve within the next half year? Eventually, we'll focus on more complicated things that we need to solve, requiring external support and additional resources. We may need to reshuffle our divisions to get the most significant benefit or do some ad hoc innovation center to accommodate. The good thing is that we can see all of that on the roadmap, and it helps to put more context to those lofty goals and visions I mentioned earlier; that in turn also helps to come up with new and necessary steps and work out different scenarios. This transparency facilitates roadmapping and maintains focus on relevant things.
Chris: Right. Are there any growth hacks that you could leverage to elicit that kind of rapid success? Can you provide your insights into that?
Clemens: The best advice I can give is to use the process consistently and, most importantly, reiterate it as much as possible; then, you have a better shot at a rapid quicker success. It should foremost be fun to use roadmapping, and there are so many different roadmaps out there. Rob from the IfM once analyzed about 700 other roadmaps out there and then wrote a paper about the classification of those different roadmaps and highlighted that every company is doing it differently. You have a baseline for roadmapping, but it should be tailored to each specific company. The latter will require some exploratory work, and you won't get it 100% right first try. Any company that claims that they have the perfect roadmap for the next ten years after a short time, I can assure you that they'll be in for a rude awakening.On the contrary, if an organization says they are trying out some pilot projects and shuffle their divisions around to find a balance and discover what works and what doesn't, that has more grounds for success. That is the approach that I like, and essentially it's where we then come back to our roadmapping roadmapping at a later stage and apply the lessons-learnt after our trial run. That's the whole point of iteration, and we use what works and remove or replace what didn't, but it requires organizations to keep a sharp and alert, open mind for it to work. Having a grumpy senior leader that wants a quick bang for his buck, for example, is not going to work out long-term.
Chris: That's such a bad attitude to have. You can't expect instant success without working for it, right?
Clemens: Exactly. Roadmapping, to some extent, can be compared to the approach used for lean startups and how money is invested in projects. If it fails, then it's not wasted money, but it's the price for the learning experience, which can sometimes be worth its weight in gold. Based on that, efforts to change our company strategy or develop a new strategy can be made more effectively since nothing is initially set in stone but open for adaptation until it fits the organization. Over time, the benefits will outweigh the costs, one tweak on the approach at a time.
Trends in roadmapping
Chris: Let's talk about trends for a moment. What trend developments do you foresee for roadmapping in general?
Clemens: One of the biggest trends right now is the whole topic of digitalization, and it has a substantial influence on roadmapping as well. We've seen that we couldn't physically run workshops; thus, we had to develop digital solutions. The organization suddenly was all about digital strategies based on roadmaps. It was time for those software providers to fill the gap created, not only for workshops but also to touch on various areas of the organization as a whole. It wasn't going to be the same after that since they've tasted the benefits of digitally fusing their strategies with and across different hierarchy levels and divisions, which allowed for increased transparency overall. In addition, I also think that roadmapping is entering into another area, which is sustainability projects since organizations are now facing the challenge of using more and more sustainable production and servicing methods. With the help of roadmapping, they might just have the tool they'll need to get started.
Chris: All right. I think that connects to what you said earlier where you said one of the biggest disruptors would be sustainability as it becomes the new norm, right? Let's remain on sustainability since roadmapping is intermeshing with it. I can tell from my experience that we hear many statements about companies having to become more sustainable and how everything has to be greenwashed with increasing frequency. Could you provide your take on that? How do roadmapping and sustainability collaborate?
Clemens: They collaborate pretty well together. Think about your typical organization that wants to become more sustainable. There are a lot of different paths that they could potentially take since sustainability is more than looking at your CO2 output. It could be about energy efficiency, clean water, reducing pollution, or even about employees' gender equality or well-being. The United Nations outlined 17 sustainable development goals, covering quite a broad realm. Many organizations are now picking up on these and trying to form their strategies around those 17 sustainability goals essentially. However, since there are so many, where do you get started? How do you realize which one best fits and is the most relevant to your organization? By using roadmapping for your sustainable activities, we can pick up on them and not only understand what we need to put in place to address one of those goals, but most importantly, we can understand how we connect them with our innovation system. That ensures that our future product iterations take the necessary steps towards a more sustainable future. It's essentially taking a good look at the value chain, like what values are lost, gained and understanding how innovation gels everything together.
Chris: Would it be possible to be more specific by taking us through a solid example of road mapping? How does it align with a company striving to become sustainable? I ask because most won't start from scratch but face complex scenarios within existing branches and divisions. So what's the best way to navigate through such complexities?
“You can then convene all those stakeholders to discuss this topic with one goal: making the company more sustainable while earning money doing it.”
Clemens: Let's say you are a manufacturing firm and you're looking to create a new strategy. The specific thing that everyone will claim is that we have had something in place working for the past ten years, but now it's time to become more sustainable. Let's pick up the CO2 topic since it's one of the simpler ones, and everyone's talking about it openly. Let's assume the strategy is to reduce our CO2 footprint by X percent in 2025 or 2030. The next step is to start roadmapping by breaking this down and setting the vision to be X percent halfway through. We set that milestone to keep ourselves motivated by making small gains but still progressing towards the bigger goal. After that, we can now look at what we have to do to get there. Essentially, we are always on the lookout for what's out there in the market or what needs to be in the market to help us achieve that goal. That is the most straightforward way to get started. Still, it gets far more exciting when you're not just seeing this one as a standalone topic, and you're now drilling into different areas of your roadmap, like a product or R&D strategy and highlighting the various sections and looking step by step. Now, how does this align with the new product generations we're throwing on the market? How does this align with the resources we're using and our business models? How about we find a way to avoid purchasing those technologies to reduce our CO2 output because we're completely changing our technology product portfolio. What if we change our product platform, for example, to no longer run on fossil fuels but on electricity? That way, we don't need to look at technologies for reducing the CO2 emissions of fossil fuels, but we can go a completely different route. Another aspect to consider is where do you generate value, and where do you destroy value? For example, you're doing some chemical stuff in the chemical industry. I'm not a chemist, but you're doing some chemical stuff and creating certain gases that are your waste products. Well, you might discover that another industry is willing to pay for those gases. So, instead of removing them sustainably, you might get someone else to give you money for it. That way, you create an entirely new value opportunity here or a new value chain, if you like. And that is really where roadmapping brings all of this together because you have this visibility of what is planned and what could happen in one central spot. You can then convene all those stakeholders to discuss this topic with one goal: making the company more sustainable while earning money doing it. For obvious reasons, that is the key driver for organizations to get on board: finding new value-generating streams for the stuff that otherwise would have to go to waste by essentially optimizing everything we do across the entire organization.
Chris: That's a great mindset, and thanks for the real-life examples and bringing clarity to the topics discussed thus far. Clemens, it's always a pleasure to talk to a real expert on roadmapping. We are nearing the end of our episode, but before we wrap up, I am interested to know your answer to our signature question. Looking back on your career so far, what has been your most greatest innovation Rockstar moment so far? Maybe it was connected with Roadmapping I assume?
Clemens: Oh, there's always roadmapping in everything I do. The most extraordinary moment for me was last year during our startup. I've worked with organizations all over the place, but whenever they are successful, their success is not mine. In our startup last year, we found a great product-market fit after quite a few pivots, and the feeling of satisfaction is worth all the efforts that went into innovation work, including all those which paid off in the end. The strategies worked, and you get rewarded with the knowledge that you've hit the nail on the head. Great feeling!
Chris: That sounds very exciting and sounds like a true Rockstar moment. With that, we have reached the end of this episode. Thank you very much for sharing your experience on innovation, technology, roadmapping and all the associated topics. It was a pleasure to listen to you.
Clemens: My pleasure. Thank you very much for having me.
Chris: For everybody listening or watching, if you want to learn more about roadmapping, simply leave us a comment in this episode or drop us an e-mail at email@example.com. That's it. Thanks for listening. See you in the next episode! Take care. Bye-bye.
About the authors
Dr. Christian Mühlroth is the host of the Innovation Rockstars podcast and CEO of ITONICS. Dr. Clemens Chaskel is Industrial Associate for IfM Engage (part of the Institute for Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge).
The Innovation Rockstars podcast is a production of ITONICS, provider of the world’s leading Operating System for Innovation. Do you also have an inspiring story to tell about innovation, foresight, strategy or growth? Then shoot us a note!
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