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Managing Research and Development

Practical Tips for Managing R&D

Essential Product Development for Engineers

Managing Research and Development
Practical Tips for Managing R&D

Here are some practical considerations managing research and development. They are specifically relevant to small manufacturers and include, tips, hints and practical implementation.

  • R&D often sounds like some grand programme or large project. The reality however is R&D is scalable. For small manufacturers, R&D can take the form of large well-funded collaborative projects, all the way down to activities which take a portion of one person’s time, with a small budget and little resources – and everything in between.
  • R&D should work towards wider business objectives, for example product or process improvements, cost savings or new product development.
  • R&D ideas should be considered and developed up into a workable plan.
  • What are the stages?
  • Who will be involved? 
  • What funded is required? 
  • What are the outcomes?
  • What is the return on investment?
  • Does the activity feed into another activity?
  • Which skills are required and where can you obtain them?

Consider queries applicable to your manufacturing business. Ask the questions and get as many answers as you can, so as to clarify thinking and so assist any decision making.


Managing Research and Development

R&D Project Management Considerations

  • Managing R&D projects differ from conventional project management, primarily because by definition, outcomes are less certain and therefore so are time scales and plans. However the discipline formal project management puts in place, can help control and coordinate R&D project activities and so reduce the risks around it. An appropriate plan/process needs to be implemented. It should consider some of the following points:

  • R&D project objectives should be set, along with a budget and any known timescales and milestone targets. Plan in project reviews and start identifying the key questions which will be used to scrutinise progress. As a minimum, prepare questions on cost, quality and lead-times, together with queries about outcomes, collaborations, resources used and the next set of actions, based on tangible deliverables.

  • How do you define project success? Considering your objectives, both during reviews and at the end, how will you know the project has been successful? Being clear about this will help give the project direction, both at a strategic level, but also with specific actions during project reviews.

  • The R&D project plan should make it clear what needs to be done and by who. Activities should be identified as clearly as possible, with estimates noted about the required resources, facilities and people.

  • What is the project governance structure? Who is accountable? Who is the project manager? Who will they report to and who will undertake reviews to ensure adequate progress is being made? Governance should also ensure the project continues to work towards strategic objectives and ultimately delivers business success.

  • Identify the scope of the project. Just as importantly, identify what is out of scope of the project. You will have limited resources, so it’s crucial to deploy them in areas directly related to what you are trying to achieve.

  • What is your R&D communication plan? How do you practically communicate with different stakeholders? How frequently does this happen? Where and how is information recorded?

  • The key risks to the R&D project should be identified and listed. Alongside these, ascertain actions to mitigate these risks so you do not get caught out unexpectedly. Risks should have owners who are accountable. A ‘Risk Log’ should be reviewed and updated during project reviews.

Managing Research and Development with Medical Products


Managing Research and Development

Other Aspects of Managing R&D:

  • For small businesses the number of R&D activities should be listed and controlled. R&D takes resources and funds. At any one time, managers need to make decisions about what R&D activities they wish to get involved in. Additionally they should be clear what their priorities are and how much time, resource, effort and funds they intend to invest in R&D.

  • Larger manufacturing firms talk about a set percentage of turnover being ploughed back into R&D. It’s no accident the most successful manufacturers reinvest larger than average percentages of turnover into R&D. What’s the percentage at your firm? How does it compare to other businesses? Try and find out figures for your industry sector and set a figure accordingly – then go for it!

  • The decision to rank, start and stop R&D projects should be made by senior managers. You may want to consider some criteria you think will help your business make these decisions. Examples include likelihood of success, funds and resources required, technical complexity, potential return on investment etc.

  • Periodically review R&D actives on your books. Consider sensible cycles for doing this where you can judge whether adequate progress is being made against the plan. Is the project still worthwhile and on course? Has it gone up or down the business priority list?

  • A consequence of R&D reviews will be the decision to stop some activities. Sometimes tough decisions are needed. Be ruthless in terms of terminating marginal activities. Resources are ultimately limited and no business can do everything. Even for projects that are stopped, knowledge is gained. This includes what works and what doesn’t, costs, complexity etc. These findings can help inform future development projects. Prioritising your R&D project list will assist tough decision making.

  • Document R&D findings in the most appropriate way. This may be reports, log book entries or alternatively it may be a series of digital images with some quick notes. Documentation very much depends on your needs and expectations within your industry sector. Importantly it need not be bureaucratic for R&D tasks for small manufacturers. Alternatively, collaborating with external R&D partners like universities and research facilities may result in published papers and professional reports.

  • If you plan on undertaking a range of development projects, you may want to consider spreading the risk of your R&D activities. For example try looking at different things, such as product development, process development, alternative technologies, different materials and improved service models. Business improvements may take many forms, so keep your eyes open for possibilities.

Managing Research and Development

How do we measure of r & d (research and development) in companies from Bhavana Rohidekar

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