Dr. Dave Maslach is an Associate Professor of Strategy, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship and therefore teaches often about a business concept called research and development. On his YouTube channel he has spoken often on this topic. This post endeavors to expand on Dave’s explanation of what research and development entails. See his vlog on R & D here:
This post was written by Dr. Stephanie A. Bosco-Ruggiero (PhD in Social Work from Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service) and Jessica Russell (freelance writer) on behalf of Dr. Dave Maslach for the R3ciprocity project (check out the YouTube Channel or the writing feedback software). R3ciprocity helps students, faculty, and researchers by providing an authentic look into PhD and academic life and how to be a successful researcher. For over four years the project has been offering advice, community, and encouragement to students and researchers around the world.
What is the purpose of research and development?
Research and development, commonly referred to as R&D, are the processes and activities related to extending the products and services a firm offers. There are two components to research and development: (1) research, which is primarily focused on extending the knowledge of a firm, and (2) development, which is focused on turning that new knowledge into usable products and services.
Organizations that are involved in research and development include small, medium, and large businesses, non-profits, and government agencies such as the military branches. Much of the innovative technology that has it taken for granted today emerged from the R & D processes. The most famous R & D agencies under the U.S. government include the Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Pentagons R & D operation.
What are some examples of research and development activities?
You might think about research and development activities in terms of a process. On one end of the process you have raw ideas, and then at the other end of that process you have a usable and well used product or service. The activities involved in research and development generally include, but are not limited to:
- Generating and cultivating ideas.
- Thinking of user requirements and how these ideas fit with users’ needs.
- Design and development of the product or service.
- Quality assurance and testing of the product or service.
- Repeating the process with users in mind.
At its basic level, the purpose of research and development is thinking about how you can generate more useful ideas, or more products and services, that serve the users’ needs or your customers’ needs in a better and more fulfilling way.
There are two different components to research and development:
- Research which is more focused on the generation of ideas. In the research phase you’re extending the knowledge of the particular company or the firm and increasing the knowledge that the firm possesses. It requires exploring a fair bit into less known areas, processes and product/service implementations.
- Development is where you’re thinking about how you can turn this knowledge that you’ve generated from research into something usable, new, or improved, and that will help out the users or enhance the user experience.
In layman’s terms you start with a bunch of ideas and narrow it down into a usable product via different activities and “stages” along the way to get to that particular moment where you have a viable product.
Keys to successful research and development
The key to successful research and development is to both allow the proliferation of ideas and to have the input of users. There is a vast amount of scholarly research on what good R & D entails. From engaging people to end users, to consumers, researchers, and managers, the R & D process has been increasingly understood and improved upon. In the vlog below, Dave discusses what a good R & D strategy looks like. Of course, this may vary between companies, but it should help you.
The innovation funnel
It’s important at the onset to think about research and development in terms of the process and defining the activities that will help move you from research to development through the innovation funnel. You start with raw ideas, conduct research, and finish with a usable product. That is sometimes called the innovation funnel.
Robert Cooper at McMaster University is the creator of the Stage-Gate system for driving new products to market. The stages included are really phases of research and development: Discover, scoping, business plan concept, development, testing and validation, launch, and implementation. The stage-gate process has very specific phases and tactics that when used in business make it possible to bring ideas to fruition. Each phase includes steps in project planning. Here is a summary of phases in the stage-gate process:
- Phase 0 (or the pre-project phase) is discovery and ideation. This is where the ideas come into play. What problem are we trying to solve, what needs are we interested in fulfilling, where do we want to go next with a specific product line or generate a new product line.
- Phase 1 includes many steps from analysis to planning. One of the first steps is scoping, which includes definition and analysis where you look at what you want to do, who will benefit, what do they need, why and how much you need to do to fulfill the requirements you’re discovering. And deciding how big you want to go and revising the length and breadth of requirements, and sometimes cut it down to a smaller scope for this iteration with a plan to address out of scope ideas to another gate cycle.
- Phase 2 is building the business plan and business case justification to gain approval for the project to be added to the development cycle. This is where you conduct analysis to prove the use case for product (idea) generation. Go on to building the project plan and do a feasibility review prior to the next phase.
- Phase 3 is development. This is the execution phase where the ideas generated in phases 0-2 are made real. The development cycle often includes an iterative cycle where the product is built and tested by the development team. The go to market strategy is also planned and developed during this stage which includes focus groups, market testing and consumer/business feedback.
- Phase 4 is testing and validation. This stage includes multiple levels of testing that can include internal development team testing of the final product, user acceptance testing by the subject matter experts and project team to validate the functions and expected outcomes, as well as field testing by consumer/business people in the real world.
- Phase 5 is product launch, which includes bringing the product to market and putting the marketing plan into action to generate interest, however many marketing and sales tactics are also completed during many of the previous stages to generate buzz for the launch.
For any research and development cycle it’s important to remember not to bite off more than you can chew. It becomes easy to see during the scoping and project planning whether you have to scale down a project to make actual development and launch a reality. At the idea phase it’s easy to get caught up in defining the perfect product or service. The idea is to be innovative in business: make the next best thing, create trends, define a generation.
That is often a lofty goal and in business or any project whether academic, scientific or in business, the desire to make the absolute best product right now that solves every aspect of a problem, makes user experience so easy, or even is the product that is so unique and beyond anything out there currently, is most often the things that make the development cycle fail.
Another aspect to consider is whether a company has the resources for the development cycle. There are always enough ideas and people who generate them. But when it comes to implementation and development, we often find that project scope is forced to be reduced because there are not enough people on the development team, or they are not able/allowed to be focused on one big project at a time.
Having a team with divided attention causes delays and mistakes. In an effort to reduce administrative costs, many companies try to do more with less. And in many cases end up bringing in contract workers for larger projects. The problem is often “the learning curve” which causes its own delay with new people joining an existing project from the outside. Or, the project gets so bloated that the timeline on the project plan keeps getting moved out because tasks are constantly behind schedule and the launch is put in jeopardy early on.
This leads to reducing the scope and developing a product that often has very little to do with the original research. It becomes a stop-gap launch or multiple versions of that until the developers have done enough–often over years–to finally release the product as it was intended. An unfortunate side-effect of bloat is that by the time you release a product it’s often outdated because another research team was able to bring a similar idea to launch in less time.
One of the best ideas businesses can adopt is to use best practices from manufacturing. The result is adopting lean management and agile techniques to earlier phases of the research and development cycle. It’s not just for manufacturing anymore. Many companies have incorporated lean techniques to prevent over-bloated projects from hindering the development cycle. So with any research and development, it’s important to think about development in a bite-sized pieces mentality.
Ask yourself and your team these questions:
- What do we want to do?
- Can we meet the deadline?
- If not, do we move the deadline or adjust the scope?
- Can we do this project iteratively and break it down into multiple projects to develop/launch in cycles?
- What do we need to do now?
- What do we want to do or what can we do in a later launch?
- What can we cut that is not needed or wanted (removing the bloat)?
When research and development are done with care and consideration for not only generating great ideas into real-world products, but doing so with careful consideration in every step of the process–from ideation to launch–the world ends up with innovation after innovation that makes lives better. Beyond generating revenue, ideas and research generate progress and improvements, and development makes that progress and innovation real. The world is inherently in forward motion because of research and development.
Are you interested in pursuing a career in R & D?
On the R3ciprocity blog and vlog sites, there is a great deal of information about obtaining a research degree in business, going into business, and a host of other business related topics. If you are interested in research and development, or another area of business practice or research, you might consider pursuing a business degree at the undergraduate or graduate level.
A graduate level degree commonly pursued by those who want a career in business is the Masters in Business Administration. An MBA is practical, but you may also be interested in the science side of business, such as R & D, resource management, or organizational psychology and want to do research. Then you might pursue a PhD in business. In this blog post, Dave lists some of the top business PhD programs in the country.
Those who practice or do research in the field of business also may choose to specialize in research and development. In the vlog below, Dave discusses opportunities in the field and what it is like to specialize in in R & D.
You might also be interested in reading this post on the blog about the pros and cons of doing an Executive PhD In Business versus an Executive DBA (Executive Doctorate in Business) programs.
If you enjoyed reading this post, check out these other posts on https://blog.R3ciprocity.com: