7 Reasons Why Your Research and Development Is Falling Short

preliminary design review

Technology Development Tips for Product Managers

In today’s marketplace there is ever-growing pressure on companies to remain innovative and for them to bring new products and services to customers. But in order for your research and development efforts to be successful, your objectives need to be focussed and must target your “big bets.” Moreover, a successful research and development campaign takes some careful planning, disciplined decision-making and willingness to invest. So here are 7 reasons why your new product development is struggling as well as tips that can help you get your R&D back in shape.

Tip #1: Shying Away from Investment

Let’s start off easy. Research and development work in any organization requires funds. Why? Funds are needed to acquire materials, build prototypes, conduct trials and studies, and to pay the wages of the employees working in R&D. Many companies set a target of around 3% of sales to invest in R&D. Regardless of how much we may choose to spend, these funds need to be concentrated around your “big bets” and projects with a high probability of success. For instance, if one were to invest $100k into 100 different projects, that leaves about $1,000 per project – not a value that is likely to get us anywhere. By contrast, if we invest that same money into our top 5 product and technology ideas that hold the best market potential, the $20,000 average that each project will get may be enough to move the needle.

Tip #2: Lacking the Ability to Quickly Prototype and Test

In virtually any technology or product development realm, there is a natural need of our design team to have the ability to prototype and test ideas. As technology leaders responsible for the development of new products, we need to ensure that our teams have access to the right equipment such that we can test and prove theories and ideas. The active word here is access. This is not to say that we should invest all our money is a fancy 3D printer for every office, or spend all of our cash reserves on a special piece of machinery that we will use in rare circumstances. But it does mean we should invest wisely in new equipment as well as provision time and capacity within our standard production for the ability to run trials and test pieces. Alternatively, if you happen to work in a smaller company, you may want to consider establishing strategic partnerships to share the cost of capitally intense equipment with others.

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Tip #3: Lacking a Commercialization Strategy

Every technology manager and product development leader should keep in mind the need to commercialize. While great ideation environments will not limit the pursuit of ideas, any product or technology we develop should be able to be sold to generate profit in some manner. Beyond the traditional way of selling the product in the open market to a customer, there are a number of commercialization strategies that may work for you. For instance, you may want to consider licensing your special process or technology to others in exchange for a fee. Further, you may wish to develop the technology and sell the rights outright to another party for a profit. Or you may want to take the technology or product you develop to enhance or compliment another product you already offer in the marketplace. The takeaway is simple: when it comes to your R&D work, remember that at some point, you will need to commercialize.

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Tip #4: Rejecting Ideas That Seem Wild

When the iPhone came out, I remember thinking that there is no way I would want one. “Why do I need it? I already have an mp3 player and a phone. Why do I need my phone to play music?” Great technology and game-changing products are the result of new ideas and the pursuit of creative solutions. And to borrow the clichĂ©, there is no such thing as a bad idea. Be sure to listen to ideas as they present themselves, and do not be too hasty to brush them aside if they may be a little difference, or unusual. What may seem like a silly idea, when afforded the chance to mature and be combined with other ideas may lead to your game-changer. Even when some ideas may seem off the wall, it’s always good practice to document them in some manner such that you can to revisit them in the future.

Tip #5: Developing Products Outside Your Core Strengths

The only caveat to Tip #4 is that we need to keep in mind what it is we are good at. We need to focus our product and techology ideas in such a way that the ideas take into account our core strengths. For instance, if you are a software developer, suddenly trying to shift gears and apply you software experts to the development of a new type of flat screen TV display is unlikely to work in your favor. So keep in mind that your R&D should maximize and be fueled by your expertise and special skills.

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Tip #6: Unwillingness to Kill Bad Bets

As managers of product development and research teams, we need to have the courage and willingness to put bad projects on the shelf. A healthy product development environment promotes ideas and encourages creativity. But we all know that not every idea will lead to the next iPhone, or the next Netflix. When setting out on a given research project, be sure to outline at least a basic plan, schedule and target objectives. Doing so will help you objectively evaluate the data you generate and weigh it against market needs. Research for the sake of research can be dangerous and lead to a lot of unforeseen costs when there is no backdrop against which you can objectively evaluate progress. Establish evaluation criterion, performance measures and milestones to guide your decision-making. If the project is failing short of your goals, it might be time to move on to something else.

Tip #7: Failing to Separate Day to Day Projects from Your R&D

As mentioned above, many firms allocate approximately 3% of their sales to research and development activities. This is very small in comparison to your day-to-day operations and activities that generate the sales. Since R&D is typically so small in comparison to your main operation, many companies will often defer R&D efforts in support of the day-to-day. While this tendency is understandable, it is extremely disruptive to conducting research and developing new products. R&D work needs just as much dedication as our normal operations, and robbing resources from your research and development every time there is a spike in demand is only going to hurt you in the long run.

So if you’re struggling to develop new products, or you are looking for a jumpstart your technology growth, take a long look at how it is you are going about new product development. Just a few simple adjustments and you may find yourself in the middle of developing the next game-changing portable device.

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