Understanding the Needs of an R&D Team

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In the fast-paced world we live in today, having an insular research & development (R&D) department is a thing of the past. With technological advancements taking place every single day, and with so many offerings to choose from, customers are really spoiled for choice. In this ever-changing world, R&D needs to be equipped with the right tools in order to do its job effectively — bringing innovative products to market, and increasing the bottom line. 

If we are to take a global view, the overall investment in R&D over the last decade is staggering. In 2019 alone, organizations around the world have invested $2.3 trillion on R&D. This is equivalent to approximately 2% of the global GDP. Half of all these investments have come from a variety of industries, while the other half accounted for governmental and academic institutions’ investments. 

Most staggeringly of all is that the annual investment in R&D has been growing at a rate of 4% per year over the past decade. It is clear that investing in research and development is a focal point in the strategy of most corporations. However, what is it exactly that companies expect to get in return? 

The answer is simple — the hope is that their R&D funding will in turn lead to the groundbreaking technology that will allow them to produce outstanding products, and cement their position as market leaders. 

Knowing its clear importance to an organization, you would expect that an R&D team is involved at all stages of a company’s strategy or in its process of bringing a product to market. Reality though is much different. More often than not, the R&D department is left to work in its own bubble without a clear path of communication with the rest of the organization. 

So, what can you do to change all of this in your company and ensure that the needs of your R&D team are met? It all starts with a proper understanding of the challenges R&D is generally faced with. Once you have a firm grasp of this, you will just need to follow the five steps framework included in this article guaranteed to leave you with a high-performing R&D team.

What Are the Barriers to a Successful R&D Department?

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The most common barriers an R&D team is faced with can be classed as follows: 

  • Innovation cycles are constantly pushed for faster turnaround times
    The advancements in software and the easy access to simulation and automation technologies have led to a massive reduction in the cost of experimentation while adding pressure on increasing R&D output.
  • R&D connection to customers is not encouraged
    In most cases, the R&D department is left to its own devices and no real effort is made to integrate it with the rest of the company. Because of the complex tasks they undertake, it is difficult for others to understand what they do. If the R&D division cannot communicate with their own colleagues, going one step further and connecting with the end-user is close to impossible.
  • Projects of little value are given priority
    Logic dictates that bold and aggressive projects should be the staple of every R&D department. Despite this, businesses tend to favor small projects with near-term results. More often than not, these emerge from customer requests and do little more than just maintaining an existing market share.

The 5 Steps Framework to Meeting the Needs of Your R&D Team

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Meeting the needs of the R&D team should be top of the list for the organizations wanting to innovate and be thought of as industry leaders. There are several steps you can take to make sure this happens in your business. So, let’s take a look at the ones we’ve identified.

1. Define the goals and metrics for R&D

As the leader of a business, you have numerous responsibilities. One of them would be to set clearly defined goals and highlight what success looks like for the company.  Once the alignment around objectives has been achieved across the organization, it is time to make sure that the R&D department has a mechanism to communicate on progress made from the bottom up. You also need to give the team the right tools to help them with accomplishing their goals.

One way of making sure this happens is through the use of performance metrics based on accurate, real-time data collected throughout the day, and made visible in an easy-to-understand format. Doing this will allow your R&D team to see their live contribution to the company’s strategic goals, and will keep them focused on what really matters for your business.

2. Give Your R&D Team Room to Experiment

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Nobody can dispute the fact that strategic goals are necessary. However, when it comes to R&D, creativity plays a key role in the process. Creative people need room to explore, be creative, and play around with their ideas. After all, they are the ones that can deliver solutions to meet customer needs. 

There are several ways you can encourage creativity in your R&D division. These can include: 

  • Developing a company culture that encourages people to question the status quo and strive to deliver the best results.
  • Failure should be viewed as a viable option as long as it provides a meaningful learning experience.
  • Innovation labs or weekly brainstorming sessions can go a long way towards encouraging innovation in unexpected ways.

3. Include Recent Graduates in Your Recruitment Plans

Having loyal employees that have been with your company for ages is all well and good. However, the chances of your business plateauing and getting too entrenched in its own ways are exponentially higher. 

The reason is simple. Long-standing employees suffer from the legacy thinking syndrome. Your R&D team is not immune to this “virus”. One way to always stay a step ahead of the times is by giving the younger generation a chance to prove their worth.

More often than not, they will surprise you with their fearless attitude that can help drive an innovative R&D culture. Their handle on emerging technologies can only help your organization reinvent itself quickly and be in a position to differentiate itself from the competition.

4. Don’t Lose Sight of Customer Outcomes

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What does not losing sight of customer outcomes have to do with the needs of an R&D team you might say? Essentially, it has everything to do with making sure that your R&D division has a clear sight to understanding the strategic business challenge at play.

With limited time and resources, having a narrowed-down focus on what is important to customers can be integral in fostering a collaborative and innovative working environment.

5. Involve Your R&D Team at the Highest Levels of Decision-Making

Whether we’re talking about a small business or a multinational corporation, it is important for top-level management to understand the importance of making a real connection with the people that drive the business

When it comes to R&D, as we mentioned at the beginning of this article, the days for it to be an insular department with no contact to other areas of the business are long gone. Top management needs to include their R&D in all high-level conversations with departments such as commercial or corporate strategy. 

You never know when your R&D team will surprise you and come up with the feedback that may end up unlocking new business models or growth avenues for the company.

Ready to Reshape Your R&D Team?

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As globalization is an unstoppable force leading the way to the formation of what we might call a “global village”, companies have to get used to the idea of increased competition. When you add to this the rapidly changing customer needs or sudden technological shifts, it is clear that businesses need to be at the forefront of innovation.

A straightforward way to ensure your company stays in touch with technology and innovation is by unlocking the R&D team’s full potential. As we have shown in this article, there are clear steps you can take to address the issue and make sure your business is heading in the right direction.

In spite of this, nothing comes easy when you deal with legacy thinking and shifting outdated mindsets. Why not allow us to give you a helping hand? Contact us today and let’s see what can be done to redesign your R&D division.


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