Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Four Ways of Thinking about R&d Management

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Four Ways of Thinking about R&d Management

Article excerpt

We have found that managers of research subscribe to four different forms of reasoning about the R&D process, which we call Schools of Thought, and we propose that this explains some of the problems that occur in practice. We have also found that publications on R&D management can be classified according to the same four forms of reasoning; however, publications favor one school of thought while managers favor a different one.

We came to this idea after seeking an explanation for the apparently illogical decisions that often occur in R&D management. We had been conducting a real-time case study of the continuing development of a particular technology in one company, and it seemed to one participant--observer that both small and large decisions within the company often did not appear logical. (Small decisions concerned project approvals and terminations, whereas a typical large decision was to purchase a technology from outside when it already existed within the company.)

Although current management theory holds that many problems arise because of lack of communication, we have observed that in many situations all parties have the same information in front of them yet after in-depth discussion still differ completely on how to proceed. We conjectured that different players might simply think in different ways; i.e., perhaps the difference lies not in the R&D situation but in the way it is perceived.

Classifying Publications

We read 655 papers relevant to a topic we defined as "management concerns of the R&D section." This topic was chosen simply because one of us is a section-level R&D manager who hoped to use knowledge gained from the literature to improve his understanding of his task. The papers ranged from slightly relevant to this particular topic to directly relevant.

The papers appeared to be based upon four models of R&D activity, which we called schools of thought and named them:

* Biological

* Chaotic

* Deterministic

* Empirical

To be able to classify the papers in this way, we developed definitions as follows.

1. Biological.--The situation changes over time and consequently a management approach is needed that can evolve. Building an organization capable of adapting is more important than the tactics for a particular project. The main concern is how to create an organization that is robust and adaptable enough to cope with change as it occurs.

2. Chaotic.--This word is used in the mathematical sense of referring to situations that are acknowledged to be ultimately susceptible to logic, but which are too unstable or complex for logic to be useful in practice. The pattern of the chaos can be described, but a given case cannot be meaningfully worked out. You do not plan in detail, because things will change. Each case is individual, and it is a waste to put a lot of effort into trying to manage it.

3. Deterministic.--In order to manage, it is necessary to measure what is happening and apply logic. This approach concentrates on methods of measuring R&D outputs, for example by counting patent productivity or calculating return on R&D expenditure. It derives from traditional production management.

4. Empirical.--A series of rules or guidelines is derived by empirical analysis of a large number of R&D projects. This "cookbook" approach assumes that universally applicable success factors can be derived from past experience without needing any theoretical justification for their importance. Project SAPPHO is a classic example(1).

These definitions were developed after reading 50 papers. Because subsequent classification of 600 additional papers did not suggest the need for any further categories, we concluded that these four forms of reasoning alone define our field.

Confirmation by Authors

Our hypothesis relied on the opinion of one person who read all the papers. …

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