The U.S. space program in the 1960s is a textbook example of multigenerational product planning. Mercury, the first generation of space rockets, put an astronaut into space. Gemini put astronauts into Earth orbit. Apollo, the final generation, put humans on the moon. Multi-generational planning is built around an ultimate goal or product that can't be attained without two or more generations of improved products.
Identify the End Game
To develop a multigenerational plan, you need a goal and a deadline. In the space program, it was to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. In business product planning, the goal is usually more modest. It might say, for example, that you'll make your new electronics line 20 percent more energy efficient in two years. Your end game may be based on your broader business goals. If, say, you plan to start targeting upscale customers in three years, having a higher-end product with cutting-edge features in three years fits nicely.
Mark the Generations
The next step in creating a plan is to figure out how many generations it will take before your product reaches the finish line. The first generation should be a product you're familiar with and can create easily. Subsequent generations may be more sophisticated and take increasing skill and expertise to build and deploy. The final generation or two might rely on new technology your company has yet to take off the drawing board.
Draw Up the Map
Once you have an end goal and a list of generations, you can map them out. The map is a visual representation of your project plan, with each column representing a successive generation or a deadline -- next quarter, next year, five years from now. If your end goal requires that different technologies undergo upgrades, you can give each tech type a row of its own. You can use more rows to represent financial or marketing goals that tie in to the product plan.
Look at the map when you've finished. It should represent a clear, simple progression that all your stakeholders can understand. If it's hard to follow, you need to refine it. Completing the product-plan map doesn't mean it's set in stone. Work on the current generation of tech may open up different potential paths. Work on future generations may prove more challenging than expected. Revise the plan and the map if and when it becomes necessary
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.