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How to Create a Product Development Roadmap

New product development is the lifeline of any company. The ability to innovate and introduce new, exciting products in a changing environment keeps customers engaged.

When you factor in that orthopedics is a competitive and highly regulated industry, sometimes it takes years to commercialize a new product. Given these market conditions, Shaher Ahmad, founder of 4S Med-Device Consulting, reminds companies to continually think about their next product and have a plan that looks years into the future.

“Orthopedic companies can’t just sit and be content,” he said. “In these times, when sales representatives aren’t allowed in the operating room, companies need products that can speak for themselves. A well-defined roadmap can help accomplish that.”

Ahmad likened product portfolio roadmapping to planning a trip. Companies must decide where they’re going, prioritize directions and discuss what it will take to successfully reach their destination.

Set a Product Development Plan

Good portfolio management or product development starts with a higher-level company roadmap. While various business units or departments may have their own goals and objectives, a company roadmap is a holistic strategic plan that should drive those goals and objectives.

“If you haven’t identified company-wide goals via a strategic plan, it’s going to be difficult to put together a portfolio or product roadmap,” Ahmad said. “A roadmap provides an overall vision for where the company intends to go in the next five to 10 years.”

The company roadmap can be as simple as a one-page document that includes the following elements:

  • Target markets and customers
  • Products to serve those customers
  • Technologies needed to develop those products
  • Differentiating core competencies to develop those technologies
  • Skill sets needed to support those core competencies

When companies highlight target markets with specific customers and associated needs, teams can work backward from a product release date to set timelines for technology, core competency or skill set development. Then, companies can determine technology similarities among business units to build common learning, expediting development and market introduction.

A shared, well-communicated, visual tool encourages a healthy, open and transparent dialogue regarding the direction of the company portfolio and ways that everyone can align for the benefit of the overall organization. It provides the visibility required for the “trip,” including where you’re going and the steps you need to get there.

“Taking a road trip is fun, but the worst thing that can happen is discovering you forgot something important,” he says. “You need to be prepared, looking at things like the weather and the condition of your car, and pack appropriately to be ready for your destination.”

Identify Roadblocks 

With the help of your roadmap, you may discover some conflicting initiatives, forcing you to prioritize and make decisions. You may also recognize a gap or a significant event that you might have to take into account or try to avoid.

Ahmad said that your roadmap should involve some additional layers. For example, below “skill set,” consider available human and capital resources. Other layers might include changing regulations or intellectual property landscape variations.

“There’s no set rule as to how you layer a roadmap, but you need to have all the information in front of you and communicate across the organization to ensure alignment and understanding,” he said.

Collect the Right Information 

Time plays a major role in a forward-looking roadmap. The map should display your plan of action on a timeline, beginning at the lowest layer, which signifies today’s skill sets and ending at your target market and customers at the top. Along that way, your plan spans across core competencies, technologies and products. Ahmad said to think of an upward arrow. Your employees and their skill sets lie at the base, and the arrowhead is fixed to your target. This arrow also reflects an upward trajectory of your company’s growth.

Likely, the process will require multiple discussions and initial assignments to gather information on core competencies, market trends, regulations, competition, reimbursement, etc. Planning takes time. But it’s critical, Ahmad said.

“A roadmap isn’t something you whip together over a meeting,” he said. “The idea is not to have a roadmap just for the sake of having one. You need to take the time to prepare and involve other stakeholders to have a clear understanding of the overall company strategy, the markets and customer trends. You should do research and have a great understanding of your resources before you start putting the roadmap together.”

Adjust Course When Needed

Even after you assemble a roadmap, it should remain fluid as you work to verify your assumptions and adjust goals and objectives in a continually evolving environment. Change will happen. Ahmad recommended designating a cross-functional team to work collaboratively, monitoring variations that may impact plans and lead to roadmap alterations.

While a roadmap is a great way to hold teams accountable, companies need to remember that it should evolve and adjust.

“At the end of the day, a roadmap is a tool,” Ahmad said. “You have to manage the tool and not let the tool manage you.”

Kathie Zipp is an ORTHOWORLD Contributor.