The next step in the technology strategic planning process is to review the projects. One of the most important elements at this point is to divide projects into three categories: These are those projects in which the technology changes are incremental, those in which the technology changes are next generation, and those projects in which the technology changes are breakthrough. One of the common mistakes made in many corporations is to throw all projects into a single mix. Separating the process into three pathways at this point speeds the decision process and improves its quality.

Incremental

Starting first with selecting incremental projects, this is best done with strong input from customers or clients. Incremental projects are those that require very little change in the technology and very little change in a consumer use of the product or service. They’re also projects for which both the technical and the product manager understand almost instinctively what needs to be done. The fastest and best way to rank these types of projects is to simply make a table what shows who is the sponsor, for what customer type (see below), and then estimate to return on the investment (ROI) made in the project. Most sales organizations have classified their customers into A, B, and C lists, or by whether they are devil or Angel customers, or more numeric ranking based on profitability per customer. Those customers that generate the most value for the corporation have their voice weighed the most. Typically a combined team of technical, sales, and marketing personnel can easily rank order the list of incremental projects by customer type and ROI.

Next-Generation

Next-generation project priority is not only more complicated but it’s worthy of extra attention to detail because it’s the kind of project that most corporations face. In spite of the desire of many corporations to have breakthrough projects, truth of the matter is that the most solid business growth is often generated by next-generation research and development programs. Breakthrough projects are often best undertaken by firms being supported with venture capital money rather than by ongoing operations profits.

Setting the priority of next-generation projects involves evaluating projects on multiple attributes that fall under four main areas of evaluation. The first main area deals with the degree of strategic fit between the project and the corporation’s business interests. The second main area often involves assessment on multiple scales related to the business returns to the corporation when the project is successful. The third main area in which projects are evaluated is the degree of risk that the company is undertaking by moving forward with the project. The fourth main area that projects are typically evaluated on includes the company’s capability to do the project internally vs. externally and the company’s ability to knowledgeably license technology at an appropriate price point.

The purpose of using anchored scales for each of these attributes is to allow consistent evaluation by multiple individuals across various projects. In addition easy-to-use scoring and visualization tools allow the strategic planning team to make unbiased comparisons of projects and project ideas, as well as providing a means to communicate the strengths and weaknesses of the portfolio mix more effectively to fellow team members, to professional colleagues, and top management. In the following example each project and project concept utilize “star maps” as a visual communication tool to show eighteen project attributes, defined in three categories for each project (the main return and risk areas are combined into an “attractiveness” area), so that the strengths and weaknesses of the individual projects are identified.

Values plotted on Star maps are created for each attribute (under each of the three categories), by looking at the list of descriptions for that attribute, then choosing a numeric value representing the closest fit of the description to the attribute based on the team member’s knowledge of the project or project concept. These descriptions are referred to as anchored scales so that inputs from multiple individuals will more closely agree.

The Star map itself can be generated in Microsoft Excel. The star map is a spider chart (360°) plot where the numeric value assigned to each attribute is plotted.