Is R&D management an art or a science? Allison Haitz talks to Cameron Begley about the skills needed in this evolving discipline.
Cameron considers that R&D management is about problematic aspects of management, making things happen on time. The real art comes in the leadership of the team, in scaling projects from concept to commercial reality and in understanding the external environment in which an organisation operates.
“There are so many dynamic forces at play around a group,” he explains. “The art comes in anticipating where these things will move. The other challenge is that R&D needs to be thinking ahead of where markets are. As from the day when you start the first experiment in anger you are 20 to 30 years away from delivering meaningful commercial results.
“It is not that what you are doing at the moment doesn’t have technical insight or merit but from a commercial perspective you are a decade away.
“So as an R&D leader if you need to be able to look at an industry or discipline and say OK, ‘where will we land in 8-10 years and where can I see the resources need to underpin my team in those years’. That is not intrinsically knowable so this is where the art comes in.
“But if you do have a tool to do this,” he laughs with Allison, “then patent it quickly and license it out, as you will do very well!”
Allison and Cameron go on to discuss the soft skills required to achieve this art and how to develop them covering:
- Is R&D Management a science or an art?
- Leadership, understanding and observing skills
- R&D Management leaders of the future
- The balance between science and commercial
Drawing on his international R&D management experience, Cameron shares his observations of R&D culture from a range of different organisations. Organisational cultures, the nature and active benefit of R&D subcultures within organisations and whether skunkworks* have a place are explored.
- Podcast 1: Introducing Culture and Clock Speed
- Podcast 2: Management, Leadership and Balance
- Podcast 3: Equilibrium, academics and policies.
If you are having difficulties with the player above you can listen on Soundcloud here.
*A skunkworks project is a project developed by a small and loosely structured group of people who research and develop a project primarily for the sake of radical innovation. The term originated with Lockheed’s World War II Skunk Works project. (thank you Wikipedia!)