Organizational Consulting Services to Improve R&D Performance

Organizational Consulting Services to Improve R&D Performance

Research and development (R&D) represents a major investment area for any organization that seeks to differentiate itself based upon the features and performance of its products. This would certainly include bioscience and pharmaceutical firms, computer software and hardware companies, and the like. But many other types of businesses need effective R&D too, including those in such wide-ranging industries as consumer products, aerospace, and even quick service restaurants. All of these businesses must impress customers with their products, and leading-edge products require a disciplined approach to R&D.

Anyone who works in R&D, strategic planning, or marketing realizes that even a small improvement in time-to-market creates enormous financial gains. This is because shorter product development cycle times not only produce tangible benefits, such as earlier payback on R&D investments, but also intangible benefits such as product positioning and brand image in the marketplace. Thus, it makes sense to optimize the new product development process to accomplish better results with fewer resources in a shorter timeframe. Many companies have done just that by reengineering their new product process using Concurrent Engineering (CE) and Integrated Product/Process Development (IPD) principles. Yet, while rearranging major process steps, such as design reviews, is a relatively straightforward matter, changing other factors that affect time-to-market may be more difficult. This is especially true for the organizational and human resource factors that affect the performance of new product teams and project managers. Many of these factors have been identified through research on technical teams. They include:

  • Project Manager's competencies - For example, project managers need to manage across boundaries, create teamwork, influence without authority, motivate people who don't report to them, resolve conflicts, and empower others through delegation.
  • Role clarity - Project and functional roles of each participant in the new product process need to be clearly defined and consistent with effective project functioning, especially in matrix organizations.
  • Communication flow - Team members need specific kinds of information at critical points in the project. This information may come from within or outside of the organization.
  • Team functioning and problem solving - Team members must work together productively, develop creative solutions to technical problems, and resolve conflicts in a timely manner.

Improving these human factors is challenging, not just because the factors seem "soft and fuzzy" to most technical people, but because there is no single template that fits all situations. The impact of each factor can vary, depending upon many things, such as the size and complexity of the project, the degree of innovation required, where the project fits along a continuum between basic research versus technology development, and the nature of the firm's culture and project management system.

How Organizational Consulting Services Can Help

Organizational consulting can assist management with its new product process in a variety of ways. These include:

  • Conducting an organizational review to examine the fit of roles, structure, culture, and communication with the mission and objectives of project teams and the functional disciplines that support these teams.
  • Performing individual assessments, preparing developmental plans, and providing coaching for key participants in the new product process, such as project managers and functional leaders.
  • Supporting teambuilding within new product teams or functional departments. This may include designing and facilitating meetings to build consensus on goals, roles, and strategies; or leading idea generation and creative problem solving sessions. 
  • Supporting inter-group team building between product teams or functional departments to connect silos, increase collaboration, and improve matrix organization functioning.
  • Conducting project post mortems and "best practice" studies to recommend process improvements.

In providing the above services, the consultant brings behavioral skills to bear in helping the R&D organization, its managers, and technical people accomplish their mission. The presence of the consultant also conveys a message that the company wants to achieve results, but in a way that maximizes individual effectiveness and satisfaction.


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