As I work for different industries, developing the next new thing, I’ve noticed that the work style of our developers has changed a bit.  It seems to be moving back to being more of a service organization, worried about check lists and hitting a timeline developed by others, rather than thinking through the most strategic approach.  I worry that we are losing the value of real R&D.  Losing the expertise and the ability to offer more than getting the next task completed.  We are losing R&D value when it should be a competitive advantage.  It is a competitive market out there.  You cannot afford to have mediocre R&D.

For R&D to be a competitive advantage for companies, it needs to deliver high value.  Value consists of three major inputs that deliver better products in a shorter period of time, at the right cost: Better Design, Better Development and Better Leadership.

Better Design enables R&D to develop the products that stand out in the market.  For design to be excellent, the R&D team must be able to translate the consumer struggle into design criteria.  This helps the R&D team to prioritize attributes and eliminate over engineering and excessive cost of goods.   This translation could even offer up more effective and efficient product development, shortening development cycle time and delivery because the focus is so crystal clear.  Better Design also results in an organic formation of differentiated pipeline opportunities.

After you have the design right, you now need to implement skills and tools that enable Better Development.  This means that you are making the most progress possible by testing product parameters and understanding where products fail and why.  This is a key output of Taguchi Methodology.  By testing the interaction of variables at different levels under controlled and uncontrolled situations, you end up with a product that has options, parameters and flexibility under several different conditions.  This parallel path style of development and thinking results in product quality and consistency, shorter development cycles, and better margins.  

With the Design and Development on point, the only thing that is left is the responsibility to drive and sustain this new culture, supporting the use of the correct tools and solutions and nurturing the learning process through celebration of success and failure.  Better Leadership is needed from the top of the house.  How do you support the change?  First you live the change yourself and support it as others practice.  Whether it is asking questions of your team on the tools used during a project or helping them to work through mistakes, you are showing that you support moving to a new way.  When that leadership goes away, people will revert back to their old habits.  Leadership is about role modeling the outcome that you are expecting.

These may seem like big endeavors for a company and function to take on, but R&D can be your connection back to the consumer and the fuel for your company growth.  R&D should be leveraged as a competitive advantage.