As I was coining this title, a number of ideas breezed through my thought process.Investments are often dissected from various viewpoints – short vs. long term, tangible vs. intangible, engineering vs. non engineering etc. In this blog I will be talking about a very important investment for every company, regardless of its size, scale, industry. An investment which will pay off both in the short and long run, yield both tangible and intangible benefits and direct the company’s operations not just for its own successful future, but for its employees’ future as well. Research and Development (R&D) is that investment, I will broach in this blog.
It is often believed that only big companies, of a certain size and revenue can afford to spend on R&D and sustain it as a separate unit within the organization. While there is some truth to this, I do not completely buy into this myth. What I do agree with, is that, not every company will have the required financial and man power to run R&D as an independent unit. In my opinion every company should inculcate the R&D focus in each and every employee and integrate R&D into core engineering– the way you do would have to be based on your scale of operations. Let us look at three common scenarios, into which almost all companies would fit into, one way or another:
- Small companies (e.g. <1000 people globally, <50M USD in revenues)
- Mid-sized companies (e.g. between 1001 and 10000 people, 50-500M USD in revenues)
- Large companies (e.g. >10000 people, >500M USD in revenues)
The challenges are varied in each of the companies. In small companies, how do you financially justify R&D is the question at hand; in large companies, creating awareness for the R&D efforts, convincing core product teams to use the company’s IP and bridging the gap between the two teams is challenging. Here are some thoughts on making the overall R&D effort successful, as once there is buy in from everyone on this effort, there is no stopping in setting yourself as a thought leader in the industry; once this is done, revenues will automatically flow in, the right talent would knock on your company’s doors all of which will help you grow in your evolution lifecycle from a small to mid size to a large company.
Small companies: Premise:Do not have money or people to devote to a R&D wing. Employees themselves constitute to R&D
- Create awareness about the need, importance, value of R&D
- Encourage employees to look for IP that can be built even as they work on their day to day projects…IP that can help build reusability, enhance the functionality of open source tools they are working on
- Productively use any down time in understanding market, business, economic, technology trends and looking for potential R&D opportunities
- Have periodic forums to discuss ideas, trends, share knowledge, demonstrate any frameworks in progress etc.
- Pick one customer who will sponsor you to try your R&D efforts on their project
Mid Size companies: Premise: Have the horsepower to maintain an independent R&D wing, but will need to be flexible to multitask. While in the previous scenario, employees on projects had to take on R&D as part of their overall routine, in this scenario the tables often turn, where R&D engineers might have to be deployed on projects occasionally to ensure pilots succeed and you win the customer’s confidence about your R&D capabilities
- Pick right talent to build your R&D team – people who are promising and have shown potential
- Focus on the right strategies for R&D given the scale of your company.You may have to compromise on some long term investments in favor of ones that have a faster ROI, to justify this team’s existence
- Pick the right projects on which you need to deploy R&D engineers for hands on project execution – strike a balance here between pilot projects, customer win phase etc. that you need them to work on vs. losing their time on hands on R&D work
- Do not omit the best practices recommended in the “small companies” scenario, once you become a mid size company
Large Companies: Premise: Existence of a full blown sustained R&D team
- Reach out to various groups in the company to build a strong relationship with them.Look into possibilities of aligning yourself with the various groups by creating R&D sub groups with specialized focus
- Conduct periodic trainings, demos to create awareness of what you do and help build competencies of employees in the company
- Conduct periodic discussions with project managers and leaders so as to recommend better engineering practices, technological and productivity boosters etc. Use this opportunity to also understand their pain areas, customer needs, to look for areas to invest in
- Do not ignore your best practices from the small and mid size companies, once you hit the status of a large company
Obviously, we as a company driven by innovation, thought leadership and best practices, strive to practice what we discuss in our blogs. Rather, most of our blog’s content stems from what we’ve learnt on the ground. As a small and growing company, we are very cognizant of the R&D challenges discussed above. We do not neglect them; we rather embrace them to work towards a solution that involves our people.We have created ample awareness of the need for R&D within the company through various forums such as technical contests, Saturday open room discussions, encouraging employees to share their ideas, look for alternatives to turn project roadblocks into new R&D propositions, and most importantly showing management support in acknowledging and investing in such inputs that come in. We have some very technically involved proprietary frameworks that have evolved as a result of such investments, in areas of test automation and performance testing. These have helped us improve productivity for our clients manifold, make our solutions technically feasible and cost effective and make the work place a fun and challenging environment for our employees
Hope the above blog has thrown light that investment in R&D is good to be mandated in all companies. Just how much to invest, where to invest and how to reap the benefits are the ones to be customized. Try out some of these customizations; you will not go wrong; you will only leap forward in the right direction.Please keep me posted with your comments, feedback and questions.