Readiness for Market: More than completing software development

 

Research and innovation projects are usually set up to find a solution for a need. By implication, if a project’s outputs are to be productized, early-stage exploitation planning should be a vital part of a project’s activities. Although action to commercialize or valorize (monetize and increase the return of) the technology is typically implemented later in the project lifecycle, the decision must be taken relatively early on. The decision to valorize a technology must be informed by a credible trajectory from a current state of readiness to a future state, however the timing for such a decision must be informed by the project’s velocity between scores.

Much effort of EU funded projects goes into developing the technological aspects of products and project outputs. However, a corresponding amount of support activity is vital to bring those outputs to market providing an organic susteinability plan and an expoitation strategy. This support includes business strategy, business modeling, marketing, sales, after-sales support, service desks, IT service management systems, supply chain management, staff training and education, business change and transition, to name but a few.

Within the context of sustainability and exploitation, we define ‘Market Readiness’ as being ready to go to market with useful, useable and used outputs. Whilst the purpose of achieving ‘market readiness’ is to develop a commercial offering for a group of customers, the concept can be successfully applied to developing a service offering for a group of users or stakeholders.

The activity to develop a story for Market Readiness is a journey that is under periodic review as with the progress of development and elevation of TRL. It is a difficult undertaking for a project to self-examine and self-determine “Market Readiness” as that process can be contaminated by hubris and therefore it is all the better as a facilitated process by an external party to bring objectivity to the outcome.

 

Contents

 


 

1.   Technology Readiness Levels (TRL)

TRL are widely known and used worldwide. From its beginnings as an emerging definition at NASA to capture technical progress in their various space satellite programmes, TRLs are used in many different contexts and sectors with varying definitions – not least the European Commission incorporates TRLs as a fundamental part of its H2020 programme as described in Annex G of the programme’s documentation.

MTRL incorporates Technology Readiness Levels using the following definition, which is an amalgamation of earlier versions, and adaptations made in the CloudWATCH2 project:

 

Figure 2: : Technology Readiness Levels as adapted by the CloudWATCH2 project

 

To find out more about the TRL, please visit this page.

 


 

 

2.   Market Readiness Level (MRL) building block 1: Business Model Canvases (BMC)

A business model is an "abstract representation of an organisation, be it conceptual, textual, and/or graphical, of all core interrelated architectural, co-operational, and financial arrangements designed and developed by an organisation presently and in the future, as well as all core products and/or services the organization offers, or will offer, based on these arrangements that are needed to achieve its strategic goals and objectives." [1]

The business model evolves and its first iteration may be skeletal and challenging to build. This is usual and external facilitation of the build breaks through a lack of understanding of the process and reservation to confess to what is unknown. This is all part of developing a common understanding of the value proposition and what is component (known as building blocks) to it. The canvas when populated is a blueprint for a strategy that has many moving parts (9 building blocks) that have discrete activities, yet is cognisant of their interconnection to delivery of the value.

Key to the success of a business is the value provided by that product or service. Without a realistic value proposition, the business model captured in the BMC will not get into motion. Hence the relationship between the BMC building blocks “Value Propositions” and “Customer Segments” are captured in a breakout document: The “Value Proposition Canvas” (VPC, not shown in this deliverable). Together, the BMC and VPC allow any organisation to validate their business proposal, organisational structure, and allocation of resources. If there is no business canvas [2] at the outset then it is more difficult to develop later when a ‘shoehorn’ is attempted to reconcile alignment of resources. 

 

 

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Figure 2: The Business Model Canvas as defined by Strategyzer

 


 

3.   MRL building block 2: The four Fits model

As part of modelling Market Readiness, we use a model of “four fits” when implementing commercial operations to describe discrete stages and milestones in the process of enacting a go to market strategy. These four stages are defined as follows:

 

Figure 2: The four fits model for commercial operations

 

 

First, a project must have clarity of purpose. It must articulate the problem clearly, propose a solution and demonstrate how the viability of a proposed solution will be tested. This stage of development is best characterised by a period of intense research, gathering evidence through interviewing stakeholders affected by the problem and early-stage designs for a solution that addresses a clear set of needs and in some cases that may be vague and lend itself to co-creation.

 

Second, a project must have an effective team. Strong project leadership depends on clarity of purpose, an understanding of the required skill sets (which should be complementary), the ability to communicate and motivate a team of suitably qualified individuals with a demonstrable track record in leadership. The quality of a project’s outputs or service offering is only as good as the team behind it.

 

Third, a project must move ever closer to matching its service offering, solutions or outputs to best serve the needs of its target customer segment(s) and reward its stakeholders. The TRL/MRL is perfectly aligned to support the reality of converging the development activity with an understanding of how that will address the target market where the market is ripe with innovation and a moving target.

 

The TRL/MRL plots the progress and trajectory to market entry. Behind the scenes is work to develop an understanding of the dynamics of go-to-market and the framework to develop that understanding is the business model canvas. This is a well-known method that engages potentially everyone in a project, this is raw thinking time and should be facilitated by a competent person familiar with the process of developing a business model canvas and who brings objectivity to the process. This is not the time for fanciful ideas as it informs the vital activities aligned to the evolution of MRL over time, for example; who do we need as partners and why? The partners needed at the outset of a project when development is in focus typically change as the project assembles its go-to-market plan.

 


 

4.   Market Readiness Levels

With building blocks in place, we can now define Market Readiness Levels within their proper context:

 

Market Readiness Levels inherit their scale from Technology Readiness Levels, matching the level of granularity. Similar to technical product development, MRLs feature four business process oriented phases, from Ideation to scaling business to a sustainable – and resilient – commercial operation.

The “Four Fits Model” applies to the last four MRL only: Everything prior to actual revenue is considered preparation for market entry, and only legitimate sales based on contracts are taken as evidence for reaching these milestones.

Figure 2illustrates the typically increasing challenge of creating a sustainable commercial operation: Achieving the Business Model/Market Fit is much harder than demonstrating mastering the Problem/Solution Fit.

 


 

5.   Putting it all together

The key innovative concept described in this deliverable combines assessing EC H2020 projects not only according to the definition of TRL, but also in combination with the new concept of Market Readiness Levels, as a direct response to the EC’s increased focus on project output exploitation and commercialisation (c.f. relevant proposal assessment annexes to the H2020 programme).

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Figure 3: A holistic readiness assessment of EC H2020 projects

This approach includes a powerful visualisation technique that can be used twofold.

Used as a project assessment element, it allows reviewers to award a two-dimensional scoring at the current state of the project. For example, an assessment may result in a “5:4” score indicating that the project is currently in possession of a large-scape prototype (TRL 5) that is (or may be) tested in a small-scale stakeholder campaign (MRL 4). Further, reviewers can indicate a future potential for the project as they distilled it from the information available to them at the time of the review (see Figure 4).

In essence, this technique allows reviewers to change from the very usual and common “benchmarking the past” type of review that almost inevitably results in focussing on what has not been achieved (negative slant), to focussing on the positive, the opportunities of a project, on its potential.

 

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Figure 4: Current score and future potential in TRL:MRL scores

The second no less important use of TRL:MRL scores is geared towards project proposal preparation. Instead of being used to benchmark projects in a review style, project planners can use it as a strategy visualisation tool to plan the future in the project.Just as much as two key data points (the current, and the future desired score) are important, the trajectory, or journey, is a key element of project management and business change management.

By indicating the current and planned final score, together with the desired trajectory during the project lifetime, project planners have a much more detailed view and strutting in place to explain to funders their project implementation strategy.

 

 


 

[1] Al-Debei, M. M., El-Haddadeh, R., & Avison, D. (2008). "Defining the business model in the new world of digital business." In Proceedings of the Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS) (Vol. 2008, pp. 1-11)

[2] https://strategyzer.com/canvas/business-model-canvas

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