The selection of innovation projects is of great importance to a company that wants to stay at the front of the race with its competitors. Hence the need for innovation to be clearly defined in the company's strategy and its role in meeting the ambitions of the business to be understood at all levels in the organisation. At the strategic level there needs to be a formal mechanism for identifying any gaps in the current innovation requirements, required to meet the growth targets of the business. Once identified this innovation gap will need to be filled by the successful completion of appropriate projects that will make up the R&D portfolio. Clearly R&D will play a central role in integrating the idea generation innovation process with other functions in the company; a leading one in the work on the early stages of new product innovation and a supporting role in market development.
Some people assume that formal Project Management in R&D starts either when the experimental programme has been agreed or a product has been selected for development. This is wrong, the techniques of project management should be applied as early as possible, at least from the time an opportunity has been identified out in the market and preferably even before this, during the phase when opportunities for R&D are being sought. It is in these early phases when most projects are rejected and it is easy to dismiss an idea without giving it due consideration from a techno-commercial perspective.
Poor execution of the project selection procedure will inevitably lead to a waste of time and energy for all concerned, resulting in frustration for the research workers and the shattering of the hopes of the sponsors of the work. There is a need to look hard and long at what advantages a new product offers, how it can be assessed in terms of market acceptability and financial rewards and also in carrying out the fine tuning of the target requirements in the light of the information that is gleaned during the exercise.
Projects are either driven by the market or by a technology. In new product research the market nearly always dominates, you cannot sell a product nobody wants, whereas in process development and applications research, technological changes can more frequently drive R&D projects. Which ever type of project, a good management system will help companies to choose the right paths for their innovations and avoid them travelling down technical or commercial blind alleys. Many of these difficulties can be overcome by employing, a stage-gate process for project management. In this process a gate is a milestone at which a formal decision is made on whether to proceed to the next stage. Whilst this process is good at delivery it is slow, being a linear process of around eight stages.
With the increased importance of getting new products into the market quickly, the time-to- market issue, attempts have been made to reduce the number of decisions points and stages in a streamlined process. Time equates to money, therefore the sooner a company is able to get a product to market the sooner it can recoup its expenditure on R&D. Guidelines for achieving this time reduction in the length of the innovation chain will be given, with particular emphasis on the role R&D Management plays in this process.
Selecting the Project Team and Manager or Leader, ensuring that the right people and other resources are available and assigned to the project team, are key managerial tasks. Once in place, a Project Manager, with the necessary skills and training, must have the freedom to plan, monitor and control the project and be empowered to deliver on the company's behalf a successful outcome.
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What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.