In today’s world, most of the companies have R&D centers and try to develop their product as much as they can. Because every company owner knows that with R&D;
- More value could be added to product (increase in revenue and profit)
- Could gain advantage among competitors (more market share)
- New solutions could lead to new customers (increase market size)
- It is possible to increase quality & decrease costs (more profit, less cost/labor)
And so more…
Having (or creating) a good team is a must; at the same time, a good and continuous R&D policy with good management will help to get the most out of it. In order to ‘create’ this policy, I have few tips for whom wonders how. By the way, I believe this policy must be created depending on company and product, so there is no winner formula exists for every company.
- ‘Not doing’ blunts
Manager’s or team leader’s main responsibility is planning and/or managing. But I believe only managing is blinding them. That’s the reason why lots of managers get bored and look for a change or challenge. Of course; managers did the job, they managed in so they know what to manage and how o do things, but time is changing and things are evolving. In order to develop; ‘doing’ is a must.
It also creates an example to colleagues, to show how they could create their path to get the results. I strongly oppose to attitude of “Do what I do, as I do.”, but with enough free space, leaders could show their personnel how efficient and high quality work could be created.
‘Doing’ could be writing code, creating final report of project, making experiment, making calls for project and so on (jobs of Belbin team roles)… except managing. I also suggest to do some physical work if there is (performing tests are very handy) because our mind feel better when body moves!
- Listen the gossip
In ideal world; brainstorms are key for creating or collecting ideas, unfortunately this world is not as rulebook says. Participants must study and self-brainstorm before a session but most of the time, ‘they don’t have time for that’. Also I believe people are created with instinct of being dissent. There are very few that does not oppose and support an idea when they first hear it, which leads to dead-born.
Beside that; people with idea sometimes does not like to directly tell it, maybe they had bad experience with idea sharing in past or they are just shy. It could be effect of sharing the idea not directly; sharing as ‘worker => senior => team leader => manager => team leader => action-taker’ and so on. Until the idea reaches the action-taker, it will lose value and idea-bloomers will lose enthusiasm. Some systems could be developed that worker could directly give feedback to action-taker, but when effort is necessary, people usually don’t use it. We all know that some open-policies like Tesla and Amazon seems beneficial but some news say that it ends with “WTF?”or “?” email to reporter’s managers. Addition to that; people want reward after they give an idea, I think this is also an instinct. Of course rewarding is important and necessary, but sometimes not sustainable.
As a solution to that; I suggest to listen gossip. Of course not the gossip about your colleague, It must be about the work you do, the company or the product. Teach your R&D staff to listen the gossip about plant, manufacturing, product etc. Sometimes you could intentionally go (with a friendly attitude) and complain about product, plant or something that you want to hear some ideas about during lunch time or free time; you will always get some good ideas.
- Always have efficient annual meetings with functional departments
It’s obvious that in today’s world, you have to come up with some big plan or something “new” for development. Making your product bigger or according to specs is not a winning strategy. Every R&D Center must focus on customer and try to be more like solution-partner to them. But it is not that easy to come up with “Uber” or “Ipod” idea… To catch up this kind of great ideas, you must work interdisciplinary. Different time of product leaders must come together. People doing different jobs must come together and share their knowledge and experience. When R&D participates in these meetings, some great ideas could be blooming. I strongly suggest to use “Matrix Organizations”; which means to me that teams with different skills and departments are coming together. By the way; this is the base of engineering since most of the standards and technical committees are working in this principle: people from different countries, different companies, different jobs are coming together and discussing about it.
Additionally; R&D team must work close with every main-functioning department and be open as much as possible. I believe “R&D means know-how and it is secret!” age is left behind, Tesla is a good example for that (well, maybe too good?). R&D team must learn how things being done in factory, they must know as the people doing the job. This will take time of course, but how much time did it take to invent wheel?
Another “must” is annual meetings with functional departments. This will let departments to follow up with R&D and for R&D it is time to show up. Letting everyone know about the process, deadlocks, achievements; this meetings are key. I suggest keeping meetings short as possible and with department managers included. These meetings will also force long R&D processes to shorten since someone outside of department is following up.
- Continuous education
Folks; don’t listen Pink Floyd’s sayings, we need a lot of education. But education have been changed a lot lately. It’s not about desks, books and blackboard; now it is about web seminar, online academies, certificates and endless knowledge that internet have. Roll up for an online course, pick a random topic of your interest, watch a youtuber to explain you about your points of interest and more… There are infinite possibilities for everyone to learn something new. To make it continuous; leave yourself some time every week. Some great managers have “1 hour rule”, which they dedicate themself only to learn during this time every day.
I believe education will be more fun when it’s shared. For this; you need to learn together. For this purpose; a “Topics of Interest” board could be created and let your team to write what they want to learn or what they are interest in. Nevertheless; you should keep the topics in limit as your company area of interest.
Another idea I could share is about R&D interns. They are mostly smart and excited about to be part of R&D department. To use this for department advantage; we are choosing a topic of our interest and in their area of study, then make them present it until the end of internship. I even let an intern to manage a brainstorm; the effort of him about the topic and the research that he made was a lot more than I could spend my time on.
- Get out of your comfort zone
This is another must for continuous R&D. You have to do things differently, you have to avoid routine and you have to do something new. Just trust yourself and your team and listen Nike: “Just do it”. Go to a meeting that you are not participating, talk with someone new, make your routine meeting in a cafe, ask opinion of different people etc… There are lots of fun ways to do your job differently, just try. You will learn something new and these new things will lead you and R&D to new ideas.
- Always stay close to customer
Most R&D departments are inside departments. They don’t go face to face with customer. This will disconnect the link between innovation and market, thus you’ll find yourself at following other R&D company’s ideas. R&D and marketing must stay close all the time and listen the customer at all cost. Similarly; sales and service departments must be on focus of R&D. Evaluating customer satisfaction surveys, analyzing service department main problems (that means product’s main problems) and solving them is a winner strategy. At the same time; new requirements must be collected from sales department and 50% focus must be placed on “future”.
- Let the ideas brew
In Turkey we have a saying as “demlemek” which means brewing. We brew Turkish tea and wait to condense, we make pickles and wait with patience for it to become consistent and more on. As we do with food, I believe R&D ideas must “demlenmek”. To apply this, after a brainstorm or an idea bloom; write it down, split it in phases and collect ideas then just wait. Change your focus, and turn back to your idea after some time (not like 1 hour, more like 1 month or period of year). I suggest you to do this as a tradition: write-think-wait-think-do. This will let you rethink the idea and add some new values in time. Or maybe combine it with other ideas and make a greater idea. Discuss this idea in this waiting period with people you trust on their ideas.
As we do with tea, you should be careful. If you wait too long, someone else could start to do it. If you wait too short; idea could become a dead-born. Wait for your company, market, people to become ready for the innovation then fire!
For the last tip; as we all know perfectly: follow the news in your product, market or your point of interests. Collect magazines, read articles and so on. Just leave some time in your busy calendar and read about something.
Thank you for reading this post, if you have any comments or want to chat, please feel free to send a message or e-mail!
Ahmet Kerem Köseoğlu
Best Transformers — R&D Manager