R&D Project Management

R&D Project Management

I’ve been lucky enough to manage what I would call a small-scale R&D project for my firm. At the highest level we aim to use technology to solve problems for educators at Ball State, as part of this mission we are always keep an eye on new and upcoming technology. Recently the area of virtual reality (VR) has started to take off, and in a effort to learn the VR field and be prepared for it’s future implementations we bought an HTC Vive.

I knew going into it that this project would be unlike other projects for many reasons, but most importantly because we know nothing about how to do anything involving VR. On most projects there are parts that require training or research but this entire project was a big experiment. A project of this nature presents challenges to a project manager because there aren’t clear deliverables or clearly established timelines – this means traditional management techniques may not be appropriate. One of the rules of project management is having a clearly defined point at which a project is finished, if the project doesn’t have an end condition then it isn’t a project – it’s a process. With all of that in mind, we knew this still had to managed as a project – whatever that might mean.

At first we approached the project with some weekly research reporting goals in order for the team to self-define what the project was going to be. The mandate was to come up with a deliverable that would allow us to discover how the technology worked along the way to meeting that deliverable. Once the research had been done, the team decided they wanted to make a simple video game that incorporated 360 degree video with computer generated graphics. Now that we have a deliverable in mind, as the project manager I can begin to build requirements, milestones and deliverables that define the project scope and timeline.

In a small company that doesn’t have a dedicated R&D segment, the resources of the company have to remain shared which causes even more problems for a project of this nature conducted in a setting like ours. Since the VR project isn’t client driven it often ends up taking a backseat to other projects which makes the already unknown timeline even more uncertain. I must admit that it becomes very frustrating to manage an R&D project like this, but since there are different expectation there is often less pressure and more understanding when deadlines get moved. Since the goal isn’t really the deliverable and more the learned knowledge, the process tends to be more fun for the stakeholders and workers. It’s important to learn that even an R&D project can be broken down into deliverables and managed traditionally as long there are some clear outcomes defined. Even if those outcomes start out vague, and even if you don’t know how long it will take to achieve them, it’s a starting point; and that’s all you need.


One thought on “R&D Project Management

  1. ERB
    Good thoughtful post.
    R&D often is like trying to find a path through a trackless forest. That is the point–the researchers are finding the path, or making the path.
    Other researchers and finally operational people will follow in due course.
    To manage in R&D you need a lot of tolerance for ambiguity . . .

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