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How to Manage R&d Projects

How to Manage R&d Projects

As a project manager, you’ll need to know how to get your team on the same page, manage stakeholders, and keep track of progress. But it can be difficult to keep everyone in the loop. That’s where project management tools come in. By understanding these tools, you can stay on top of your project and make sure everyone is getting their fair share of the blame.

What is R&D project management?

Project management consists of a set of frameworks and processes for planning and managing the different phases of a project. This is, broadly speaking, a classic definition of what is nowadays understood as Project Management in which you, as Project Manager, plan, prioritize and supervise the different operations and tasks to be carried out to complete the project within the agreed deadlines and budgets, optimizing to the maximum issues such as resource management or project costs.

However, can this traditional view of project management be applied, for example, to the research and development of new products or services? Is it possible in this type of projects to work with well-defined objectives, requirements, deadlines and budgets from the beginning, as it is the case with the projects you normally manage in your organization?

Build a team

It might be nice if someone on high would assign staff members to a team and then you, the project manager, could just lead. This hardly ever happens. Either you gather people on your own initiative to work on your idea, or your employer assigns you to lead a project and it’s up to you to find a team. Either way, this formation phase is a challenge.

  • Engage those with crucial skills. This seems obvious, but determine ahead of time what skills are required and get those people. Avoid gathering them along the way.
  • Keep the same team. Continuity is important. Make sure everyone understands that you expect them to stay on through the life of the project.
  • Engage support staff early. That’s everyone from the analytical groups to glass blowers. You can elevate their enthusiasm simply by including them in the formation stage. They deserve to understand the project and feel part of it.
  • Convince your colleagues. Why is the project important? How will it make a difference? What will I learn? What’s the time commitment? They will ask you these questions; be ready with honest answers.
  • Honesty in all things. Overselling a project can be fatal and will reflect poorly on you later. I once became involved in a project that had been misrepresented to an outside collaborator. It collapsed quickly with bad feelings all around.

Set expectations

Everyone must understand the project objectives and their role in reaching them.

  • Hold a startup meeting. Review the objectives and your expectations. When appropriate, incorporate the team’s feedback and ideas. You won’t have thought of everything; now’s the time to show that you value your team’s input.
  • Sow the seeds of enthusiasm. This is a matter of personal style, but don’t be overbearing, demanding or critical. Ask people to take on assignments; don’t order them. Be enthusiastic yourself.
  • Initiative is key to progress. Make it clear that you expect members to take the initiative on tasks within their domain. Do not require them to get your approval for everything. They may make mistakes or approach things differently than you would. Accept that; don’t criticize or blame — teach.
  • A timeline is good, but not as an edict. The team must reach consensus on the timeline. It must be flexible and subject to revision. The timeline provides a working plan that everyone can refer to.


The free flow of information among all team members is crucial. Don’t make yourself the focal point of all communication. If team members aren’t talking to each other, why not? Be concerned.

  • Hold project update meetings. These must be regular and frequent; they are key to keeping things on track.
  • Have an agenda. Be sure to include opportunities for everyone, including the project leader, to summarize their activities and show their data and progress.
  • Manage the meeting. If meetings descend into endless free-for-alls, expect the project team to dread them. Enthusiasm will plummet.
  • Produce an outcome. Identify key issues, next steps and action items. Make assignments for follow-through.

Remote collaboration

A project involving multiple organizations and locations may require remote communication for meetings. I find this to be a necessary evil. If at all possible, bring team members face to face, at least occasionally. An effective project team requires comfortable personal relationships.

I once managed a long-term biotechnology R&D project involving team members at a Dutch company. We were big; they were small. They kept mentioning the “elephant and mouse syndrome.” They were afraid of being squashed by our more formidable resources. There was no basis for this, and we worked to reassure them. Everyone spoke English, but it was not the first language of the Netherlands group. I trained myself to be hypervigilant and often halted discussions to clarify and make sure there were no misunderstandings. We agreed to meet in person about three times a year. With each meeting (and dinners and outings), relations improved and true friendships were formed. In a spirit of cooperation, we were able to get through difficult challenges and negotiations.

Do not hold meetings when participants are jet-lagged. Many of us overestimate our ability to perform under jet-lag conditions. I’ve witnessed important mistakes and misunderstandings when people try to hold difficult discussions immediately after crossing five times zones.

In one case, we lost an opportunity for exclusive rights to a new biodesulfurization system because our negotiator had just stepped off a nine-hour flight. He made unwarranted assumptions and failed to grasp subtle details of the discussion. His desire to spend as little time in country as possible (and overconfidence in his abilities) led to trouble and a long cleanup effort. I have no illusions about my own terrible jet lag abilities. I always tried to arrive a day before important meetings; when that was impossible, I struggled.

The important stuff

Now comes that part in all lists of best practices: If you forget everything I’ve said so far, remember these next two points. They are fundamental not only to your project success but also to your ability to form good teams in the future.

  1. Do not stop. Never, ever allow a project to stop prematurely; maintain momentum. You may encounter seemingly impenetrable road blocks and be tempted to call a temporary halt. Don’t do this. During the weeks or months of inaction, your team will move on to other things. Restarting will be difficult. Momentum will be lost. Find a way to avoid getting stuck. In such situations, I generally find some facet of the project that can continue or create a short-term objective to keep people moving while I work behind the scenes to remove the barriers.
  2. Spread credit and praise. As the project leader, you are a senior person. Your status is high, so you can afford to stand away from the limelight and direct it toward your team. This is the right thing to do. It builds enthusiasm and loyalty. When a project hits a milestone, celebrate the team’s accomplishments. I had long practiced this principle. But once, a moment of inattention caused a problem. At the end of a yearlong development project, I quickly wrote and distributed an announcement of our success. Unfortunately, I neglected to credit four junior team members in our India office who had made important contributions remotely. They called me on it, I apologized profusely and fixed the announcement, but the damage was done. Lesson: Always pay attention; don’t rush. Giving credit is essential. Beyond that, you must take genuine satisfaction in the success of others. You will be remembered as someone who spreads the glory the next time you want to build a collaborative effort.

Running a project can be gratifying and productive. Success depends on preparation and the project leader’s management style. And when you see a good leader in action, as I have, watch and learn.

r&d project management tools

FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis)

FMEA facilitates risk reduction when designing, or improving the design of, products, processes and systems.

Description: FMEA is a systematic approach to assessing the potential sources of product, process and system failure, together with their consequences.

Kano Model Technique for determining customer and prospect’s satisfaction with product features.

Description: Kano Model is based on the ideas and techniques developed by Noriaki Kano, a Japanese researcher and consultant who published a paper in 1984 These ideas are based upon the following premises: Customers’ Satisfaction with our product’s features depends on the level of Functionality that is provided (how much or how well they’re implemented); A weighting is used to define the levels of satisfaction

  • Satisfaction. Kano proposes a dimension that goes from total satisfaction (also called Delight and Excitement) to total dissatisfaction (or Frustration).
  • Functionality. Also called Investment, Sophistication or Implementation, it represents how much of a given feature the customer gets and how well its implemented it.
  • Performance. How the expected functionality is rated by the customer

NPV (net present value)

Net present value is a method of calculating your return on investment, or ROI, for a project or expenditure. By looking at all of the money you expect to make from the investment and translating those returns into today’s dollars, you can decide whether the project is worthwhile.

Description: When a manager needs to compare projects and decide which ones to pursue, there are generally three options available: internal rate of return, payback method, and net present value.

Net present value, often referred to as NPV, is the tool of choice for most financial analysts. This is because NPV considers the time value of money, translating future cash flows into today’s dollars. In addition it provides a number that can be used to easily compare an initial outlay of cash against the present value of the return.

Quality Function Deployment – House of Quality

QFD is considered one of the best management tools available for clarifying the ‘Voice of the Customer’ in relation to the development of a proposed new product or service. It is used by many global companies, such as Hewlett Packard, Ford and ITT. Although the approach originated in Mitsubishi’s Kobe shipyard, the set of cross-functional product planning routines are now applied to new product developments across most sectors. The original article by John Hauser & Don Clausing in Harvard Business Review provides an excellent summary of the approach.

Description: QFD enables cross-functional product development teams to gather key information such as:

  • Which attributes of the customer’s ‘wants’ are more or less important for any given requirement?
  • What are the measurable goals for the product and do any conflict with each other?
  • To what extent is the customer prepared to compromise on the original specifications?
  • Which options have the potential to ‘delight’ the company’s customers?
  • A populated House of Quality matrix provides the opportunity for all stakeholders to negotiate any proposed compromises.

Of interest to: R&D Managers, Product Development, Marketing, Customer Services

Sources of further information: The website is a very comprehensive and well structured resource covering most aspects of QFD for Product Developers and their Managers, Suppliers and Customers.


Roadmapping tools are used to align and plan, enabling different groups or disciplines to achieve consensus on how best to move forward and realise a vision.

Description: The concept provides a metaphorical image of a roadmap being used to navigate a business through partly known/unknown territories. It provides a structured visual framework as an aid to understanding and communication within a business process.

It has a number of strands:

  • Supporting strategy and innovation in technology-intensive firms
  • Enabling cross-functional dialogue, consensus building and communication
  • Driving forward change through a planning-oriented format
  • Adapting to company context and purpose through a flexible systems-based framework. The technology roadmapping approach was originally developed by Motorola more than 35 years ago to improve synchronisation of technology and product development. Since then the approach has been adopted (and adapted) by many firms in many industries for supporting innovation and strategy, and is also widely applied the sector level, sponsored by trade associations, government departments and other agencies.
  • Visualising strategy. The use of visual methods can be very beneficial for supporting cross-functional (and cross-organisational) dialogue, consensus building and communication, enabled by the holistic multi-layered structure of roadmaps, which are typically associated with different stakeholder perspectives.

Scenario planning 

Scenario planning is a strategic planning method that can be used to make flexible long-term plans. It has its origin in the methods used by military intelligence to generate simulation games for policy makers.

The methods combine known facts about the future, such as demographics, geography, military, political, industrial information, and mineral reserves, with key driving forces identified by considering social, technical, economic, environmental, and political trends. Within a business context there is less emphasis on gaming the behaviour of opponents, but this type of strategic thinking can be useful when considering consumer reactions or competition.

Scenario planning may also involve aspects of systems thinking, recognising that many factors may combine in complex ways to create sometime surprising futures and allows the inclusion of factors that are difficult to formalize, such as novel insights shifts in values, unprecedented regulations or inventions.

Of interest to: R&D Managers, Marketing Managers, Project Leaders and the Executive Portfolio Review Panel

Scoring methods for technology and project prioritisation 

It is vital in the early stages of technology or innovation projects to be able to decide which projects to pursue and which to shelve, however there is often minimal information available.

There are a number of scoring methods available that provide an objective way to rank projects across a number of criteria. It is important to manage the scoring process carefully to avoid cognitive biases. The results can be plotted in different ways to help the decision process.

Rick Mitchell, Rob Phaal, Nicky Athanassopoulou have developed one approach that have created a  practice oriented working paper which provides guidance on how to make the best use of the information that exists and shows how to design an appropriate scoring tool for any particular case. It enables the R&D Manager and others to assess the project against a number of appropriate factors and allotting scores to each. 


  • the importance of treating measures of Opportunity and Feasibility separately
  • how to choose the factors;
  • how to ensure that the scoring is as logical and objective as possible
  • how to include the inevitable uncertainty
  • how to manage the process, including the treatment of portfolio-level considerations such as ‘balance’.

Stage-Gate Product Innovation Process

The Stage-Gate model takes the often complex and chaotic process of taking an idea from inception to launch and breaks it down into:

  • Stages – where project activities are conducted
  • Gates – where business evaluations and Go/Kill decisions are made

It was developed by product innovation experts Robert Cooper and Scott Edgett and is widely used in industry.

Description: The Stage-Gate model is based on the belief that product innovation begins with ideas and ends once a product is successfully launched into the market.

The Stage-Gate model incorporates:

  • Pre-development Activities – business justification and preliminary feasibilities
  • Development Activities – technical, marketing, and operations development
  • Commercialization Activities – market launch and post launch learning

TRIZ (theory of inventive problem solving)

TRIZ is a problem solving toolkit that stimulates creativity.

Description: TRIZ is the Russian acronym for a phrase translated as the ‘Theory of Inventive Problem Solving’ Developed in 1946 by soviet inventor Genrich Altshuller and his colleague.

The tools direct the team to:

  • find many ways to solve a problem
  • find new concepts and the routes for developing new products.
  • see solution triggers distilled from analysing all known engineering success
  • understand problems and user requirements

Agile project management

The concept of ‘agile’ was first adopted by the software industry to reflect a new iterative approach to development that allowed the solution to evolve. It provides a rapid and flexible response to change. Agile was popularised by the Manifesto for Agile Software Development or ‘Agile Manifesto’, an intentionally streamlined expression of the core values of agile project management.

Description: The idea of agile development has been adopted by other industries where a flexible approach is required but is considered risky in many settings. Of interest to:

More information: Agile Project Management Handbook v2.0 Author: DSDM Consortium Publisher: DSDM Consortium

Types of r&d projects

Research and development (R&D) refers to projects that companies carry out in order to gain knowledge in their field. This new scientific or technological advancement is then used to create new or improved products, services and services which the company can then use or sell.

When many people think of R&D they tend to imagine laboratory technicians in white coats or large pharmaceutical brands carrying out testing. Of course this type of work would be included, but it’s actually far, far wider than that. R&D in fact goes on in pretty much every successful company at some point, regardless of its size, professional area or sector.

There are typically three different types of R&D: Basic Research, Applied Research and Development Research.

Basic Research

Basic research is generally where the objective is to fully understand one particular subject area, rather than in practical application. It’s concerned with the pursuit of a particular scientific advancement, but at the same time has no specific commercial aims. To achieve maximum benefit from this kind of research, companies need to be consistent and dedicate plenty of resource to it longer term.

In terms of beneficial outcomes, basic research aims to give a company a better knowledge and understanding of a specific problem and how to tackle it. It provides the first steps in developing a strategy and finding a solution, whilst also giving the company a better understanding of current trends in the market.

Applied Research

Applied research is about the investigation work necessary in acquiring new knowledge to create commercially marketable products and services. It’s concerned either with determining possible uses for the results of previous basic research, or in finding new ways of achieving a specific goal.

The end result of applied research is that companies can use it to work out how they’re going to meet both customer and industry requirements. It therefore forms the second step in the R&D process, enabling the company to identify solutions, resolve any issues, and to take advantage of any detected industry trends.

Development Research

Development research involves a systematic piece of project work that uses existing knowledge gained from research or practical experience for developing a new product, service or process. In this way, engineers and manufacturing teams can bring ideas to life, before these new products are sold in the marketplace. New processes brought about by development research can also be used by the company in more effectively and efficiently marketing their products.

Sounds expensive – is there any government help towards R&D costs?

Yes! There is.

The government has for many years strongly encouraged Irish businesses to invest in research and development in order to grow. Companies that are undergoing innovative projects, expanding their operations, growing their sites and taking on more staff are crucial for a strong economy. In turn, stronger economies tend to have lower inflation rates and lower unemployment, which of course means more tax money for the Revenue’s coffers.

With this in mind, since the early 2000 the Irish government has offered all Ireland-based companies a helping hand towards R&D costs. This is in the form of R&D Tax Credits and R&D Grants.

What are R&D Tax Credits?

R&D Tax Credits allow profitable Irish companies engaging in R&D work to claim a reduction in their Corporation Tax. For SMEs this reduction can be as much as 25%, in addition to the standard 12.5% rate offered – so 37.5% in total. With projects and eligible costs being extremely broad, as you can imagine even fairly small claims can add up to many thousands of euros.

The scheme is open to any Irish company in any sector (including loss-making ones who can receive the benefit as cash instead). Eligible projects must essentially involve some element of innovation, for example creating a new product, service or process, or markedly improving a new one. The project in question must also look to make a technological or scientific improvement in the field in which the company operates. Although R&D Tax Credits can still be claimed if the project is unsuccessful, its original aim should not be easily solvable by another competent professional working in the sector.

It’s an excellent scheme, offering a highly valuable financial boost. However, applying for R&D Tax Credits is often a complex process. The onus is on the company applying to not only outline their R&D work but to justify it (through a strict set of criteria), and why it should attract the relief.

This is why it’s so important you use the services of highly skilled and experienced R&D tax consultants like us at Myriad Associates. Our team is made up of R&D specialists and accountants on hand to personally guide you through the application process for a successful, fully optimised claim.


Effective project management is key to a successful project. By following the guidelines for project management, you can make sure that your project is completed in a timely and effective manner. Additionally, usingproject management tools to improve performance can help you achieve the specific goals set for the project.

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