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Forbes Technology Council
Successful CIOs, CTOs & executives from Forbes Technology Council offer firsthand insights on tech & business.
In the fast-paced tech industry, staying ahead of your competitors is essential to survival. To do this, you need a strong research and development team — a group of driven, talented, innovative individuals who are passionate about finding your company’s next big thing.
The problem, however, is that in many organizations, R&D ends up working in a bubble, isolated from the rest of the business. If you want this department to thrive — and therefore bring your company to the forefront of the market — you need to make R&D an important and appreciated part of your business.
Sixteen members of Forbes Tech Council each offered one way to embed R&D right into your company’s culture.
Oftentimes, product development and R&D are dictated from the top. To drive R&D in a fast-moving startup, you need to give your engineers a clear goal of what the effect of the R&D is and what measurable metric denotes success. Empower your team with the tools and guidance to succeed and feel their impact. – Michael Su, Blueboard
For R&D to become part of your culture, you have to actively create situations where it can happen. That means having meetings and sessions to brainstorm and discuss research and development opportunities where specific projects can get a green light. That way, there is always someone working on these projects while the startup presses forward. – Chalmers Brown, Due
Get the balance right between focus and idea exploration. If you have too much focus, you miss opportunities, even ones that are directly related to what you are trying to focus on. Too much exploration, and it is hard to get things done. – Paul Heller, Sopheon
Creating a sustainable pipeline flow improves quality and choice of products while maintaining focus on the overarching objectives. By maintaining a sustainable flow, costs are kept under control while still preserving innovative and novelty mindsets, permitting resources and time to be properly allotted to the correct units, thus leading to superior products. – Alexandro Pando, Xyrupt
Driving successful R&D requires finding the right set of problems to invest your team’s passion and energy into. Set goals and expected outcomes because time and budget are finite, but don’t handcuff your team’s creativity in doing so. – Jack Mannino, nVisium
R&D investment should be governed by strategic goals, but tech talent should also be allowed to explore off the beaten path. You never know what they might find. My favorite example is Twitter, which started out as an experiment by Jack Dorsey at Odeo, a podcasting company that used Twitter as an internal service. Today, no one has heard of Odeo, but Twitter is everywhere. – Vik Patel, Nexcess
Get employees excited about learning. In addition to the performance and motivational benefits that come with a culture of learning, employees will naturally find solutions to apply newfound knowledge to your business in creative and unexpected ways. – Jamey Taylor, Red Mountain Services
The phrase R&D immediately draws thoughts of wild and amazing solutions. In reality, however, the simplest, most straightforward solutions are often where innovation lies. Even if you “fail,” you still will have accomplished something usable in the future if you’ve built on a solid base. – Aaron Eppert, PacketSled
Don’t let perfection become the enemy of completion. Quality is important, but speed matters in a high-growth environment. That doesn’t mean sloppy or half-baked work should be tolerated, but the perfection standard carries diminishing returns when you’re the upstart. Everyone has to be comfortable with iterating on the fly and working toward the ideal in phases. – Cory Capoccia, Womply
Engineers love to innovate and disrupt. They are motivated to chase the next killer solution. If you team them up with your GTM team, they will do so knowing the opportunities and time to market available for their upcoming ideas, while the GTM team will help them seize the largest market. When GTM and engineering meet, wonders happen! – Juliette Rizkallah, SailPoint
Hiring people right out of school who are fearless and ready to jump in head-first can help drive an R&D culture. They often have a much better handle on newer and emerging technologies that can help differentiate your organization and aren’t bogged down by legacy thinking. – Michael Ringman, TELUS International
With limited time and resources in play, there is constant pressure to make sure that everyone is prioritized to work on what’s important. Focusing on customer outcomes narrows the focus on understanding and validating the strategic business challenge at play. It also enables a culture of collaboration, innovation and rapid iterative learning toward meeting that outcome. – Pratik Bhadra, Bluecore
Engineers are naturally tough to integrate into the culture of fast-moving startups since technical people mostly focus on the development process versus what’s best for the business and customers. That’s why the goal of any R&D department at a startup is to build a culture of business awareness and problem-solving that drives everyone at the company to create the most value for the customers. – Artur Kiulian, Colab LA
For early-stage startups, keep the R&D team close to the other teams and a part of business and operations. It is vital for R&D to feel like they’re part of the organization and have insight into broader business goals. When everyone can share the same culture, the quality of the product, the motivation for the team and the effectiveness of R&D are all enhanced. – Ofer Garnett, YouAPPi
Some of the most profitable projects come out of hackathons. Create a “Hack Week” program where once a year, team members work on nothing but their ideas. To ensure the success of the program, adopt a blame-free policy and promote collective ownership of code and infrastructure. – Thomas Griffin, OptinMonster
Shared values and a written mission help to define a group’s culture and purpose. When everyone is on the same page, R&D progress can happen startlingly quickly. The leadership challenge is to maintain buy-in and accountability to those values and mission. Startups that allow the energy of their people to seep away will lose their momentum. – Matthew Russell, Digital Reasoning
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