Leaky Pipes

Most R&D organizations maintain a portfolio of projects (aka R&D candidates) often termed a pipeline. R&D projects move ahead, in every greater stages of completion, until they either emerge out the end of the pipeline as commercial products, or they are stopped. Pipelines ‘leak’ in the sense that early candidates rarely make it all the way through to the end: they are de-funded or suffer so-called attrition at various stages of completion.

Typically the pipeline consists of very many early stage products and fewer later stage products. Attrition rates for early stage candidates are very high, since these typically are attractive from a scientific perspective but still too distant from the end to reveal the challenges of commercialization+. As the project progresses the commercial obstacles become clearer: the reality of a very demanding marketplace set in.

Eliminate the pipes! This statement refers to the concept that industrial R&D should advance products based on its research across various fronts, each of which has a viable chance of becoming a commercial product. We simultaneously explore multiple commercial options without prematurely shutting down any option. There are often surprises, both good and bad.

Note: the following discussion refers to innovative R&D up to the point where we show evidence of commercialization (EOC). We're looking for the best way to demonstrate our research has blockbuster revenue potential.

Where traditional R&D decides the most attractive option at each path in the research process, hard-wiring that path so-to-speak, World Class R&D keeps all the options open until one or more products emerge on the marketplace. World Class R&D builds flexibility or multiple options at each of its research junctures. There are thousands of individual decisions along the research pathway, and many of the combinations and permutations of these decisions significantly affect how customers perceive our final product. It is very difficult to make these decisions in isolation, so World Class R&D does not shut down options too soon. The pipeline, so-to-speak, is filled with potential. There is no defined path to the exit point.

Today, the problem with pipelines is that narrow-minded managers think they can manage the pipeline. These are individuals in love with order, harmony, consistency, standardization, and organization. These are not creative individuals, and they manage the work in a way that is deadening, routine and destined to fail. Instead, in World Class R&D we manage people. What does it take to foster and nurture creativity in our researchers as they progress the entire program of research towards multiple commercial successes. We don’t fill their heads with visions of hierarchies, pipelines or funnels: these are images of constriction and confinement. We foster images of openness and possibilities.

'Eliminate the pipes' means we find new and creative ways to ensure progress towards commercialization in our creative endeavors. We never assign arbitrary numbers, designations or names to R&D candidates because there are none. Instead we set up the work in such a way that researchers go to bed each night thinking about commercialization with the same intensity that they think about the excitement of the intellectual pursuit of basic research. We do not hard-wire the finish line, at least beyond a conceptual outline, because we seek innovative research leading to innovative products. Instead we set up the work so that innovative research and commercialization are intertwined to such an extent that one cannot proceed without the other.

Home Page April 2010