By Shawn Dickerson, Vice President of ProjectManager
Today’s businesses remain competitive by seeking market insights and developing new services, products or improvements. Future company growth often sits on the shoulders of the research and development (R&D) department.
Beyond researching, planning, testing and implementing new programs on behalf of their organizations, R&D teams are also responsible for understanding customer expectations for existing and future products. The global R&D market has reached nearly $1.7 trillion, a record high. Despite the growth and the important work that R&D teams complete, many of these teams still rely on spreadsheets, shared folders and a flurry of emails to manage projects. Without the same sophisticated processes of other departments, how can R&D teams execute their crucial work, both quickly while simultaneously meeting the quality standards expected of them?
R&D pain points intensify in the hybrid environment
Speed is essential to the success of R&D teams’ work, but a lack of project agility due to poor collaboration and project details scattered across platforms threatens the pace of project delivery. The struggles associated with managing R&D projects and resources are longstanding, but they’ve intensified as more and more R&D teams grapple with the transition into a hybrid work environment.
But what exactly does “hybrid work” mean and what does it entail? In a hybrid work environment, R&D team members are separated not only by physical working location but also by work style preferences and unique team roles. Some employees split their time between in-office and at-home work, gravitating toward different work styles based on their skill sets.
“Hybrid work represents the biggest shift to how we work in our generation,” said Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO. Let’s explore the speed-related difficulties that hybrid R&D teams face and the steps they can take toward a faster, more efficient working environment.
Reduced agility slows product time to market
The requisite pace of product innovation is only getting faster. The need to design, test and ship new products is pivotal to capturing the first-mover advantage and gaining the biggest market share possible. According to a study conducted by McKinsey, if a product is six months late to market, it will earn 33% less profit over a 5-year period. R&D teams don’t have the luxury to take their time with new product development and doing so may result in long-term profit loss.
Despite the pressure for speed, individuals on hybrid R&D teams often rely on antiquated technology and manual communication processes such as email, spreadsheets or phone calls. When R&D teams manually enter project timelines and resource allocations in siloed workstations, it’s difficult to track project progress.
Lack of visibility further stalls projects
In addition to reduced agility, R&D teams struggle with a lack of visibility. R&D teams cannot complete their important work in a vacuum; they must communicate with other departments to share timely details and project updates. But when hybrid team members rely on so many disparate tools and processes to keep track of updates, it results in significant timeline lags.
If a research and development manager needs a quick status update on the budget or the availability date of a new product prototype, they may not know where to turn to gather information quickly. Hunting down these essential details without the luxury of stopping by your co-worker’s desk can extend projects and impact quality.
Poor collaboration means delayed responses & misunderstandings
This lack of project visibility undoubtedly leads to inefficient collaboration, potentially becoming a major bottleneck in the R&D process. Team members often communicate through email chains, instant messaging apps and other platforms that are divorced from the work being completed. Virtual meetings may consist of discussing emails that took too long to write in the first place. And as team roles work from different time zones through disconnected communication channels, misunderstandings and delays are even more common.
Creating a better hybrid work environment
As 42% of global innovation executives report that development times are too long, speed is often the measure of success for R&D teams. Yet traditional project management techniques have proven to be slow and clunky in their mission to support the important work of R&D teams.
The quality versus speed conundrum for R&D teams is best resolved through hybrid work management, but what are the steps to achieve this? By embracing the core tenets of hybrid work management, R&D teams can continue to stay productive no matter their location, work style preference or team role.
Don’t be prescriptive about individual work styles
Today’s R&D teams have processes rooted in continuous improvement but producing physical products may not lend itself to the same strictly agile approach embraced by software teams. Rather, other project management methodologies such as phase-gate or waterfall should also be embraced for success.
By allowing your R&D team members to work how they please — whether it be agile, waterfall or a combination of methodologies — you empower them to take control over their work while still making progress toward the same underlying project goal.
Tie collaboration directly to the work
As hybrid R&D team members gravitate toward different work styles, it’s critical that they know where to track project details. Tying collaboration to the work being accomplished allows for faster progress and communication, simultaneously reducing misunderstandings and confusing email threads.
When communication is asynchronous and easily findable in one location, it doesn’t require the immediate attention of involved parties. R&D team members can continue to push projects forward without wasting time tracking down necessary project details.
Establish a core reporting framework
Finally, in addition to collaboration with context, hybrid R&D teams can establish a singular reporting framework that acts as an agreement between various project stakeholders. This ensures they have easy access to the data and reporting they need on a regular basis without having to hunt it down themselves. While a department head may be satisfied with a weekly dashboard view, a new product development (NPD) project manager may require access to daily status reports on progress toward key milestones.
Consider an all-in-one solution for hybrid work management
While it’s possible to implement cloud-based, low-tech solutions to aid the transition into a thriving hybrid work environment — such as shared documents for collaboration or templated progress reports for executive sponsors — R&D teams can also lean on an all-in-one approach: hybrid work management software.
Seek a software solution that can do the following for your team:
- Provide a direct path to the data and insights each team member needs to create and test new products quickly.
- Offers multiple views while maintaining the overall integrity of the project — think Kanban boards, Gantt charts, task lists, calendar views and more.
- Tie collaboration directly to the work being accomplished to avoid confusion
- Has no long implementation period and is cost-effective yet powerful
Embrace hybrid work management for faster R&D project delivery
Despite the siloed nature of hybrid teams, better, more efficient ways of working are possible. It’s inevitable that a larger volume of R&D teams will embrace this shift toward a flexible, hybrid work environment; Edelman Data notes that 73% of employees want flexible, remote options to stay. No matter where your R&D team is located, how they prefer to work or their unique role, they can leverage hybrid work management to keep up with the ever-evolving market pace.
Shawn Dickerson, VP of Marketing at ProjectManager, a leading project and work management solution for hybrid teams, is a passionate evangelist of the benefits of hybrid work management. With more than 20 years in high-tech marketing — and the last decade in the PPM and CWM spaces — Shawn brings a deep understanding of the challenges team members face in prioritizing, planning and delivering their best work. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.