Companies invest in research and development to turn ideas into action, create new lines of business and ensure long-term competitive advantage. But not every innovation can be developed with the knowledge and resources of a single team. To maximize the potential gains, many companies have embraced internal collaboration ideas for R&D.
Collaboration can be beneficial across all types and sizes of R&D organizations. You can also customize these efforts based on the project’s particular needs, support and objectives. At its best, R&D collaboration can disrupt knowledge silos that prevent effective knowledge sharing and decision-making. To be successful, however, you’ll need a robust knowledge management strategy, clear processes and careful handling of confidential information.
Learn more about R&D collaboration’s potential benefits, how to get started and what paths are open to you.
What Is R&D Collaboration?
R&D comprises a series of complex operational activities, often spanning multiple departments and requiring substantial capital investment. While R&D has the potential to generate long-term, sustainable growth for the business, it has upfront costs and can leave you uncertain about when, if at all, successful results will be produced.
R&D collaboration involves partnering with other areas of your organization to pool resources, expedite workflows, save costs and reduce risk. These mutually beneficial collaborations can include partnerships throughout your organization. Sales and marketing teams, for example, can provide insights from consumers while financial teams can guide cost-related decisions and legal teams ensure compliance.
What Is an R&D Strategy?
R&D can be a scattered effort in organizations that fail to define their strategy. Ideally, R&D strategy is guided by answering key questions that address your organization’s purpose, view of the future, focus areas, business alignment and ability to implement ideas.
Many R&D organizations face additional challenges, including keeping pace with innovation and technological advancement. Teams working on R&D projects can also struggle to effectively share knowledge, assess progress and quantify results, especially in earlier stages. Your R&D strategy should include measurable goals and metrics that can indicate progress.
Is Collaborative R&D Effective?
Collaborative R&D can be incredibly effective because it expands projects and resources beyond the typical scope of a single team. However, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach and requires careful consideration and clearly established expectations.
Collaboration can utilize existing resources, increase production speed and offer opportunities to partner complementary knowledge. Collaboration at large multinational organizations, for example, can span product categories and industries. Smaller organizations, meanwhile, also can benefit from internal collaboration, although each team member will likely have a wider scope of responsibilities.
R&D teams should also recognize the challenges associated with collaboration. Sharing of ownership and credit should be established before beginning any partnership. Partnerships can be hampered by misaligned objectives, as well as differences in language, culture or technology. Measuring success can also be a long, complex process that requires shared definitions and metrics.
Overcome these challenges with careful preparation, effective management, and consistent and productive conversations and learning.
R&D Collaboration Benefits
Drive Down R&D Expenses
The business costs associated with R&D can be significant, particularly in industries such as technology and health care, where R&D is a substantial portion of overall spending. R&D investment has surged in recent years through in-house and government funding. U.S. R&D spending, for example, exceeded 3% of the country’s GDP for the first time in 2019, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Collaboration and knowledge sharing across departments, divisions or even geographies can help organizations improve R&D efficiency and drive down research expenses by sharing the cost.
Access to Global Resources and Candidates
Geographical limitations are becoming less of a challenge for many companies because globalization and technological advancements have made collaboration across borders more feasible. Organizations spanning multiple geographies can enlist the support of top job candidates without being limited by location. Additionally, cross-cultural knowledge and knowledge-based skills can bring different perspectives to projects and accelerate innovation.
An expanded footprint can also improve visibility, as collaborative research projects can lead to publications with more citations. A study that analyzed over 10 million papers over a 15-year period found that the number of internationally co-authored papers tripled, further highlighting the value of collaboration.
Share Risks and Results
Collaboration can help limit each party’s exposure to risk and create additional opportunities to share achievements. Projects with internal partners usually share responsibilities and costs, which hedges against one team or department shouldering the costs of an unsuccessful project. Collaboration also moves work forward, as many projects would be delayed or eliminated without the combined efforts of multiple parties.
Successful R&D collaboration, meanwhile, can be a force multiplier by yielding different benefits for each internal partner and, in some cases, spurring further research.
Starting an R&D Collaboration
Procure Nondisclosure Agreements
Establishing upfront expectations is key for any R&D collaboration, and a nondisclosure agreement can be an essential step in the process. R&D teams often work with highly confidential information that covers critical business operations. NDAs can remind everyone involved of their responsibilities and the company’s rules. If there is confusion or a disagreement, such documentation can help resolve disputes before they get out of control. NDAs set boundaries for all parties while freeing them up to focus on agreed-upon avenues of innovation.
Align Vision and Goals
When starting an R&D collaboration, ensure that you and your partners are in alignment on vision and goals. Each party brings unique perspectives to the work, and they might have their own objectives, but the ultimate goal of the partnership should be clearly defined and understood. Alignment helps improve knowledge sharing, reduces wasted effort and can be especially important in preventing disagreements over R&D ownership and use.
Establish Processes to Track Projects and Outcomes
Evaluation methods for R&D programs can also vary significantly across industries and objectives. Some results might be difficult to measure or not immediately measurable. Project managers can find themselves in a dual role of facilitating knowledge sharing and ensuring that resources are available for the team.
R&D collaboration requires clear processes to track progress and outcomes across each stage of projects. As the collaboration continues, you can analyze outcomes across each component, verify results and make adjustments as needed.
R&D Collaboration Ideas
Licensing agreements can save time and money while ensuring that all parties are aware of what is expected and required of them. It is important to carefully review any license agreements you may be considering, as you’ll be handing over some control of your final results to another party, potentially for a long period of time.
These agreements should clearly indicate the rights of use across different fields and applications, along with dictating the flow of payment from royalties or any other revenue associated with the results.
Knowledge transfer is essential for collaboration. Mutual commitment and trust are key to open knowledge sharing even as all parties protect confidential information and pursue the organization’s interests. Knowledge transfer collaboration is more effective when you implement knowledge-sharing systems to streamline communication, create a safe environment to ask questions and make answers easy to find.
Knowledge transfer can be an ongoing effort, yielding results and applications well beyond the project's original purpose. As knowledge accumulates, further innovation can be realized by improving upon the initial results.
Projects can be sponsored by external organizations, such as government agencies, corporations or private groups. Your organization could be the beneficiary or the sponsor. One example of the latter is your organization augmenting internal R&D by sponsoring research through a university. Sponsored research projects can reduce or eliminate R&D funding requirements while bringing in new perspectives. These partnerships can also increase internal R&D collaboration by focusing disparate efforts on the work that’s being funded.
When pursuing sponsored research, make sure everyone is clear on the desired objectives, especially where the emphasis differs by party. Businesses might be looking to develop a profitable product or service, for example, while universities and government agencies could be focused on fundamental research.
The Power of Collaboration
R&D collaboration can unlock new opportunities for innovation with more resources and knowledge than any single department would be able to amass. Prepare for success by setting clear expectations upfront and setting the stage for trust between organizations. Make sure knowledge can be obtained, stored and transferred by any team member at any time. Build upon existing knowledge to find new solutions, and then make it easy to share that knowledge.
These collaboration ideas for R&D can be a starting point for organizations looking for new ways to amplify their impact. If you need an effective solution to share R&D knowledge within your organization, Starmind can help. By using AI to build a real-time knowledge network, we give teams on-demand access to the answers they need, when they need them, so everyone can do their best work.
Connect with our team today to find out what Starmind can do for your R&D teams.
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