New Product Development Product Line Roadmapping

Focusing and Amplifying Innovation

Product Line Roadmapping (PLR) is a powerful process. Smart managers use this process to coordinate and accelerate work that pulls together and creates critical insights related to a line of products. This might sound simple and straight-forward, but in practice, it is a dynamic and heady process. Activities within PLR help to focus knowledge gathering, business analysis, and strategic thinking on one thing: advancing a product line. In a full architecture of new product development (see diagram 1), PLR is a sub-process of the front-end, preceding concept generation, feasibility testing, and stage-gate development activities.

Good product line roadmapping sets the stage for new product development, linking strategy with real work and with real investments. The goal of the process is to create a focus for innovation and set up the actions for advancing the product line. Resultant roadmaps address all influences and true possibilities for product lines over both the short term and the long run.

Figure 1: Portfolio Mix Management

Innovation Output

Teams following a robust product line road mapping process will generate specific targets for product innovation along, with a priority ranking of current and potential projects. These outputs of PLR give it a fundamental role in product development. Indeed, organizations find that the process becomes integral to new product development efforts, and, in particular, to pipeline and portfolio management activities. Good PLR output guides product development for the greatest impact in the market and the greatest leverage of technologies and brand equity. In essence, PLR amplifies new product development efforts by combining relevant cross-functional knowledge with strategic and creative thinking.

How it Works

Like other cross functional processes, PLR consists of three components: a workflow, a decision-flow , and an information/knowledge flow. Most often, the owner of the PLR output will also be the person who leads the PLR team. This may be a marketing director, a brand manager or a director of R&D. A cross-functional team conducts information gathering and analysis, and makes strategic judgments throughout the PLR process. Team members should be highly regarded “doers” and come from marketing, sales, R&D, brand management, market research, business strategy or planning, and manufacturing. They are the true knowledge leaders in the organization with ability to think both strategically and creatively. In addition, as a team is learning the process, organizations often find it important to augment the team with a facilitator who is expert in the PLR process. This person works alongside of the team to help coordinate and accelerate activities.

A single PLR process iteration may take between one to six months to complete, depending upon complexity, scope, and the newness of underlying markets, product categories, technology platforms, and the availability of contributors. Yet, while speed is very important, it is not as important as assuring that the team can contribute intelligent, insightful and creative thinking. Before starting PLR, management must, to state very simply, make sure that the team is “Bloody Smart.” As one delves into the inner workings of PLR, the reason for this are obvious. Product line roadmapping is a knowledge process that requires people to manipulate bits of knowledge and relevant insights in order to create a strategically desirable path forward. Intelligence and breadth of knowledge is needed to do this.

One very important output of PLR is a well thought-out set of new opportunity targets, called “Product Innovation Charters” (PICs). The PIC provides a target for innovation that enables organizations to invest in well-defined and strategically purposeful Front-end concept generation activities. (See example of a PIC below) A key to understanding PICs is realizing that they are not product concepts or notional ideas. Rather, PICs are targets for innovation. They provide the focus for further insight gathering, creativity and concept generation.

Figure 2: Product Innovation Charter

Other outputs from PLR include detailed analyses of the market/technology setting and a summary report of the findings, strategic insights, and recommended actions for the product line. Upon conclusion of the process, the team typically presents the report, inclusive situational analysis, action plans, and potential front-end projects (PIC’s) to senior management. Often, this presentation is made in the context of a business unit’s NPD portfolio and pipeline management reviews so that projects, if deemed appropriate, may be adequately resourced.

Integrating Knowledge

PLR integrates knowledge from six distinct “thought worlds” – marketing, technology, portfolio planning, resource throughput planning, product lifecycle management, and strategy.  Some topic areas include:

  • The attractiveness of specific market segments;
  • Current and potential positioning of the brand(s);
  • Discontinuities in consumer behavior or customer purchasing;
  • An organization’s ability to conduct product development;
  • The availability of resources;
  • The match of key tasks with internal skills and capabilities;
  • The strategic appropriateness of technology platforms and building blocks;
  • Advancements of underlying technology roadmaps
  • The competitiveness of the product line against competitive alternatives;
  • The organization’s market and technology capabilities in comparison to competition; and,
  • A detailed review of customers’ current and changing wants and needs.

Figure 3: Product Line Planning as a Process

A Four-Phase Approach

Organizations execute product line roadmapping in a variety of ways. The example below is a four phase process in which the team gathers or generates specific knowledge and insights in each phase. They then culminate each phase of work by merging and, in some way, enhancing the accrued knowledge and insights.

Phase 1 focuses on information gathering and market segment selection. The objective of this phase is to understand the current situation and to select the best arena in which to find new product development opportunities. The team first works to develop an understanding of the fit and attractiveness of relevant market segments, current technology capabilities, the product portfolio mix, and product life cycle positions. This initial phase guides the team in selecting one or more segments of the market on which to focus ensuing PLR efforts. Once the segment is selected, the team conducts preliminary voice-of-the-customer activities to gain deeper understanding of customer/consumer needs within the selected segment(s). The output of Phase 1 is one or more targeted market segments and an assembly of rich information, knowledge, and insights about the segments.

Phase 2 focuses on analyzing the targeted segments. This analysis, conducted by the team, covers the market segment trends and drivers, the product value chain, and the distribution channels. The team also carries out an examination of competitive strategies compared against the firm’s actual strategy within the selected market segment(s). These analyses provide an understanding of the gaps in the product line, in the positioning of technologies, and in the resources required to execute development work. The PLR team culminates this phase using all of the knowledge accrued to creatively generate numerous potential PICs. Each potential PIC is intended to help fill gaps in the product line or to take advantage of identified opportunities and discontinuities in the market. The team then reviews all potential PICs for attractiveness and fit. The output of Phase 2 is a short list of the top potential PICs deemed attractive for further analysis.

Phase 3 focuses on further refining and validating potential PICs against feedback from specific customers (more voice of the customer). The intent of the team is to analyze the potential PICs for likely competitive responses, resource / capabilities requirements and distribution channel issues and opportunities. Then the team refines and alters potential PICs accordingly. They use criteria that reflect the desired product portfolio mix, and assess how each potential PIC, if developed into new a offering, might contribute to meeting the goals for the product line. Finally, the team examines resource and strategy issues arising from possible execution of Front-end and Stage-gate activities derived from potential PICs. The output from Phase 3 is a better thought out, reshaped, and re-prioritized list of potential PICs.

Phase 4 focuses on rationalizing the full product line plan, including newly generated potential PICs, to optimize the whole product portfolio with respect to the product line. This may include retiring existing products, re-positioning products, terminating products in development, as well as accepting one or more of the potential PICs for introduction into the front-end (concept generation) process. The output of Phase 4 is a detailed report and presentation to management of the findings and recommended actions for advancing the product line.

Best Strategic Moves

Product line roadmapping is a knowledge process. Most organizations already have available much, but usually not all, of the bits of knowledge needed to conduct the process. The purpose of structuring PLR as a process is to provide guidance and coordination of cross-functional work in gathering, and where necessary, generating the needed knowledge. This assures that a full, strategic orientation can be taken in support of product line optimization. Such focus is powerful. It enables management to concentrate all facets of business on the best creative and strategic moves for the product line, and to do so while recognizing both real opportunities and real constraints.

The exact process and its flow need to be specific to the organization. A general template for the process can be used to set up the process, but it is unlikely to be the perfect approach over the long run. It is important, though, that the process — its flow of work, information, and decisions — be customized while carrying out the process. For this, using outside expert facilitation is enormously helpful in getting through the process and modifying it to fit the organization better.

Product line roadmapping must be taken very seriously by the organization. When executed well, PLR is the goose that lays golden eggs of new product development. It is just a matter of doing it, and doing it well.

Next Steps

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


The Profound Impact of Product Line Roadmapping

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


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