Standardization News

Enhancing Your Role as a Standards Professional, Part 2: Maximizing Input to Strategic Planning

By: 
Jeffrey Strauss

Part 2: Maximizing Input into Strategic Planning

By providing input into roadmapping and scenario planning, you can make your technical committee work relevant to your company's strategic plan.

The first article in this series ("The Elevator Speech") showed how to introduce the value of standards to an organization and its executives by positioning your work in the context of corporate planning and pressing executive concerns. I highlighted how standards could help with selecting technology paths, managing risk, enhancing alignment with suppliers and building confidence in investment decisions. I also argued that standards professionals need significant and ongoing input in organizational priorities to make sure that standards development participation and monitoring align with strategic planning.

Of course, organizations have existing planning processes. And, unfortunately, standards development and monitoring is rarely explicitly or sufficiently considered in these broader discussions.

This article will walk through two commonly used planning tools - roadmapping and scenario planning - and consider how the standards professional can provide useful input for these, and apply outputs from them to enhance their work. Even when not used in a formal way by a company, these tools involve concepts and concerns that are almost universal. Indeed, Richard Albright, a top expert on roadmapping, suggests that "Roadmapping is just good planning."

Roadmapping

I will focus on corporate technology-product roadmapping while noting relevant industry roadmapping. A useful and simple definition of a roadmap comes from a special report in Research Technology Management: "Roadmapping is the view of a group of stakeholders as to how to get where they want to go to achieve their desired (and defined) objective."1 An alternative definition, adding the key consideration of timing, is that roadmapping is a disciplined, structured, focused process to show and achieve consensus on what you expect to do, and how you expect to do it, over time. Broadly speaking, roadmaps are visual and communicative, and focus on stimulating, guiding and building on collaboration.

As a tool, a roadmap bridges technology, organizational resources and intent, and market needs.

Roadmapping builds on a consensus across the value chain definition of market and change drivers and strategic objectives. It provides a time-based plan that ensures resources and capabilities are in place when needed and creates alignment across the organization and value chain. Roadmapping implies and requires strong executive support at launch and throughout the process. The increased inclusion of standards work and the standards professional in the process can strengthen executive recognition of their importance.

Roadmaps include:

  • The critical sequence of tasks and steps (and key interrelationships and interdependencies between steps) to reach objectives;
  • Major decisions with related contexts and underlying market and technology data and roles for stakeholders; and
  • Specified obstacles, risks and gaps and anticipated and assessed environmental and technology changes and how they will be managed.

Attributes and stresses in roadmapping fit closely with standards work. As we will only use the process to highlight desired inclusion of standards work, we will use a generic mapping format (Figure 1) and another map highlighting standards input (Figure 2).

Figure 1 omits task detail and the specification of resources and obstacles, but even this example quickly communicates the interdependence of technology with product evolution and market developments.

Figure 2, while still very simple, adds detail on tasks and illuminates existing and evolving standards to be monitored and addressed.2 Most critical is the indication of interaction among broad strategic planning (focused here on product planning), technology development and standards activities.

In the chart, horizontal bars reflect tasks and intended progress over time and vertical bars indicate desired interaction. The diamonds indicate events such as launch points. Notably, standards-related activity interplays continually from the very early stages (conceptualization) of technology development and product planning. These feed assessments of relevant existing and evolving standards. They also help determine who should participate, and how, in the negotiation of new standards (from asserting leadership to monitoring).

Standards work both informs and follows broader planning as a product moves through development. Insights gained through participation in standards negotiations enhance market assessment. Of course, input from across the organization (not reflected in this illustration) as well as from monitoring of the market, is needed to support any negotiation position.

Standards work enhances roadmapping initiatives in a number of ways:

  • Standards define data formats, controls and performance measures, supporting communication and integration. (Although roadmapping is intended to involve relevant stakeholders across the value chain to refine objectives, detail implementation tasks and obtain buy-in, in practice it can be difficult to bridge proprietary interests and organizational structures and processes.)
  • Observing competitor and other stakeholder positions in standards negotiations and seeing the consensus achieved on technology paths can help roadmappers better understand what is driving market evolution, clarify development targets and specify obstacles.
  • In volatile, uncertain environments involving the introduction of new technologies, standards can enhance assessments of corporate vulnerabilities and support transitions from legacy systems to new approaches.

Scenario Planning

In the "Elevator Speech" article, it was suggested that executives are likely to be most receptive to supporting the role of standards professionals when significant project or product decisions must be made and when there is a high level of uncertainty due to changes in market or technology. Although roadmapping includes some consideration of market changes, corporations have also turned to scenario planning (or scenario analysis) for more extensive analysis.

Scenario planning is not forecasting. Instead, scenario planning prepares the organization and strategic planners for a range of possible futures. The tool helps identify and challenge assumptions, shows the complex and cascading impact of changes, and helps test the viability of strategic options. It can also reveal how competitive strengths and weaknesses may shift under changing conditions and can point to potential new threats and opportunities. A key facet of scenario planning is the specification of early indicators to be monitored that may signal significant changes.

Scenario planning emphasizes detailed and vivid narratives conveying a sense of what the "new world" might be like, incorporating factors outside the corporation's control that would have a major impact on operations and decisions. When this strategic planning process is adopted, more than three scenarios are usually developed from a systematic framework to avoid easy dismissal as "good," "bad" or "an extension from current conditions." Notably, computer programs are sometimes used to generate hundreds of scenarios, but this can be unwieldy and limit the tool's important collaborative potential.

Considering the timing and nature-of-impact of standards is important in scenario planning. Standards are an integral part of the operating context and often a determining factor in technology innovation, evolution and market acceptance. As such, variations in standards development should be explicitly included in many scenarios. Indeed, stakeholder behavior and comments in standards negotiations over time may be usefully incorporated as indicators.

In the previous article in this series, I noted that standards can give confidence to investors in new technologies. A growing but challenging trend in standards development is to anticipate and guide new technology evolution. Figure 3 reflects the interplay of standards development with the technology lifecycle. Although standards are not ultimate determinants in her examples, Ruth Lin's discussion of scenarios for home-area networks as part of smart grids notes that standards can support addressing security concerns, stimulate convergence of technologies and, implicitly, impact market acceptance and choice through essential patents.3 As will be considered in the third article in this series, scenario planning can help make standards and negotiation positions more robust.

As a final consideration, there are a growing number of industry roadmaps supported by government, associations, companies and other stakeholders that evolve a consensus vision of trends and challenges, stimulate collaboration across sectors, establish a resource baseline of current thinking and practice, and inform government and corporate planning and budgeting. Recent examples that explicitly include standards are efforts led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology targeting smart grid and interoperability and the cloud.

By asserting the natural and useful role of standards in strategic planning processes that already engage executives, standards professionals can take the next step in advancing their positions, value and careers in businesses and other entities to which they belong.

The next article will explore how roadmapping, scenario planning and other supportive tools can enhance the standards professional's work, including negotiation.

References

1. Probert, David, and Radnor, Michael, "Technology Roadmapping: Frontier Experiences from Industry-Academia Consortia," Research-Technology Management, Vol. 46, No. 2, March/April 2003. p. 27.

2. A more detailed example of standards monitoring in roadmapping can be found in Ho, J.Y., and Sullivan, E., "Evolving Roles of Standards in Technological Innovation – Evidence from Photovoltaic Technology," 35th DRUID Celebration Conference, Barcelona, Spain, DRUID, 2013. See chart on page 21.

3. Lin, Ruth, "The Smart Grid: A World of Emerging Technologies Analysis of Home Area Networks," Wharton School, Mack Center for Technological Innovation, 2011.

Figure 1 - This simplified generic roadmap quickly communicates the interdependence of technology with product evolution and market developments. (Source: Albright Strategy)

Figure 2 -This generic product development roadmap adds task detail and illuminates existing and evolving standards.

Figure 3 -The interplay of standards development with technology life cycle.

At Northwestern University for 30 years, Jeffrey Strauss is acting director of the Center for Technology and Innovation Management within the university-wide Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Studies, Global Engagement and Scholarship; he has responsibility for activity involving industry. Strauss spearheads initiatives supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop teaching modules and exercises and to conduct industry-academic workshops that enhance attention to standards in business and engineering curricula. Strauss teaches graduate, undergraduate and continuing education courses. He is vice chairman for the Americas in the International Cooperation for Education about Standardization.
Issue Month: 
May/June
Issue Year: 
2015