Technological Planning and Forecasting

Strategic technical planning embraces a wider scope than an individual program and can cover a wide range of topics. It can be organization or portfolio focused, enterprise-wide, or system focused. A program’s technology plan may be linked to an organizational or enterprise “strategic technical plan” [2, 3]. It should also serve as the companion to the program’s business or mission objectives because business or mission needs and gaps drive the technology needs. At the same time, technology evaluations inform the technical planning activity of technologies to achieve the technical vision or end-state. The resulting technology plan serves as the roadmap for satisfying the gaps over time to achieve the end-state.

The process of developing and implementing a technology plan should include the following activities :

Evaluate the environment for innovative uses of technology. What is changing in the environment that needs to be taken into account or can be exploited? Where is industry headed and what are its technology roadmaps?

Define desired results. Where does the organization want to be within a planning horizon, usually 5-10 years? Envision the future as if it were today, and then work back to the present.

Identify the core technologies needed for meeting the vision and focus on those first. Assess the risks for maturation and focus on investment and mitigation. If the risk is very high, the choice is to wait and depend on the “bleeding edge,” or embark on a serious investment program. The criticality of the technology and/or mission drives this choice. If it is indeed a core technology and critical to the success of achieving the end-state, significant investment will need to be applied to buy down the risk. One example of this is the government’s choice to invest heavily in cybersecurity.

Identify the remaining technologies applicable to the mission or business area end-state. But, don’t become enamored with technology for technology’s sake! Keep it simple and focused on the end-state.

Establish a quantifiable feedback system to measure progress. Define what must be done and how it will be measured to determine progress. Define measures of success to gauge whether the implementation of the plan is progressing successfully. Adjust the plan accordingly. Measuring return on investment for those technologies requiring maturation can be challenging; make allowances for failures depending on the assessed risk.


Assess the current state of the organization implementing the plan. Are resources (staff, funding) and processes in place to effectively implement the plan? Are the required skills available?

Develop tactical plans with measurable goals to implement the strategy.

Form the roadmap. Develop the phasing, insertion points, associated R&D investments, work plans or packages, and sequence the activities within each functional and major program area in the tactical plan to form the roadmap. Allocate resources and tasks and set priorities for action during the current year.

Assess the life-cycle costs of technology. Take care not to underestimate the life-cycle cost of technology. This can be difficult. Industry investments in new technology tend to be closely held and proprietary. Often, the full product or prototype is not made visible to the sponsor until it’s ready for sale or deployment. So, usually there is a lack of technical detail and understanding of the whole product or technology and its application to the mission area. The result can be increased costs for integration, maintenance, and licensing. Licensing for proprietary special purpose technology can be particularly costly. An alternative is a sole-source relationship.

Educate the organization and stakeholders on the plan and its implementation. Communicate with stakeholders and users using their operational terminology and non-technical language. Users won’t support what they can’t understand and can’t clearly link to their mission. Communicate the plan to outside industry, government laboratories, and associated R&D activities to ensure understanding and form or solidify relationships. The technology plan can be a tool to collaborate on shared investment strategies toward achieving common goals.

Implement the technology plan. Monitor, track, and make adjustments to the plan according to periodic reviews.

Review the technology plan. Review annually or in other agreed period by iterating the preceding process.


Important aspects

Primarily, a technological forecast deals with the characteristics of technology, such as levels of technical performance, like speed of a military aircraft, the power in watts of a particular future engine, the accuracy or precision of a measuring instrument, the number of transistors in a chip in the year 2015, etc. The forecast does not have to state how these characteristics will be achieved.

Secondly, technological forecasting usually deals with only useful machines, procedures or techniques. This is to exclude from the domain of technological forecasting those commodities, services or techniques intended for luxury or amusement.

Rational and explicit methods

The whole purpose of the recitation of alternatives is to show that there really is no alternative to forecasting. If a decision maker has several alternatives open to him or her, s/he will choose among them on the basis of which provides him/her with the most desirable outcome. Thus his/her decision is inevitably based on a forecast. His/her only choice is whether the forecast is obtained by rational and explicit methods, or by intuitive means.

The virtues of the use of rational methods are as follows:

  1. They can be taught and learned,
  2. They can be described and explained,
  3. They provide a procedure followable by anyone who has absorbed the necessary training, and in some cases,
  4. These methods are even guaranteed to produce the same forecast regardless of who uses them.

The virtue of the use of explicit methods is that they can be reviewed by others, and can be checked for consistency. Furthermore, the forecast can be reviewed at any subsequent time. Technology forecasting is not imagination.

Methods of Technology forecasting

Commonly adopted methods of technology forecasting include the Delphi method, forecast by analogy, growth curves and extrapolation. Normative methods of technology forecasting — like the relevance trees, morphological models, and mission flow diagrams — are also commonly used.

Combining forecasts

Studies of past forecasts have shown that one of the most frequent reasons why a forecast goes wrong is that the forecaster ignores related fields.

A given technical approach may fail to achieve the level of capability forecast for it, because it is superseded by another technical approach which the forecaster ignored.

Another problem is that of inconsistency between forecasts. Because of these problems, it is often necessary to combine forecasts of different technologies. Therefore rather than to try to select the one method which is most appropriate, it may be better to try to combine the forecasts obtained by different methods.

If this is done, the strengths of one method may help compensate for the weaknesses of another.

Reasons for combining forecasts

The primary reason for combining forecasts of the same technology is to attempt to offset the weaknesses of one forecasting method with the strengths of another. In addition, the use of more than one forecasting method often gives the forecaster more insight into the processes at work which are responsible for the growth of the technology being forecast.

Trend curve and growth curves

A frequently used combination is that of growth curves and a trend curve for some technology. Here we see a succession of growth curves, each describing the level of functional capability achieved by a specific technical approach.

An overall trend curve is also shown, fitted to those items of historical data which represent the currently superior approach.

The use of growth curves and a trend curve in combination allows the forecaster to draw some conclusions about the future growth of a technology which might not be possible, were either method used alone.

With growth curves alone, the forecaster could not say anything about the time at which a given technical approach is likely to be supplanted by a successor approach.

With the trend curve alone, the forecaster could not say anything about the ability of a specific technical approach to meet the projected trend, or about the need to look for a successor approach. Thus the need for combining forecasts.

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