Perspective: Managing R&D Teams

Article By: Ayla Kremb, Fundraising Specialist, BDM, Catalyst Solutions ASPAC

Startups come to life because their founders are inherently creators. R&D is in their DNA. They eat, breathe and sleep with a sole focus: Create something ground breaking from scratch.

This is a great formula in the 0 to launch stage of the company, but as soon as they want to grow to a meaningful scale, R&D can no longer be a one person job. It has to become a team effort.

Since the transition from solo-R&D-star to prolific-R&D-squad is a journey with many pitfalls, in my experience there are 3 lessons startups must learn:

Documentation: The genius of most R&D leaders is neatly contained in their brain. This makes it inaccessible to the rest of the team. In fact, many times the person in charge doesn’t even know what they are doing right, how it can be replicated and what blind spots they are at the mercy of. That’s where documentation comes in. It forces the leader to put the steps to his success down in black and white, think through the assumptions that create his mental frameworks, and most importantly, take the brilliance out of his head to become accessible to everyone else.

Coaching: Now that the process in tangible, the greatest proof of its scalability is whether the team can understand, imitate and troubleshoot the steps in the first place. Most leaders are surprised that the team doesn’t take to their approach like fish to water but instead identifies friction points that first need to be resolved. These often include lack of communication cadence such as effective meetings and daily standing scrum-style stand-ups, human resource restraints in certain areas of expertise and a lack of interest from the team to engage in certain product development initiatives. The R&D star’s patience to co-create a functioning system that the team believes in is key to moving on to the next step.

Letting Go: With a mutually agreed upon system in place, it is time for the leader to step back. If he or she micro manages, the team never gets to turn the companies R&D DNA into their own. Of course, the team will make many mistakes along the way which luckily will lead to removals of bottlenecks, pitfalls and other unforeseen issues that can only be discovered once they take the work into their own hands. Once the team gets a chance to solve their own problems, their confidence will grow, they will take stronger initiative to drive the product vision exponentially, and turn the company’s R&D reputation into an industry renowned entity.

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If you are a business leader who is struggling with your R&D formalisation, financial resources may be a restraint that needs to be overcome first. Chat to us about grants and incentives that can finance this transition for your team so you can generate exponential impact with your R&D efforts in 2018.