Survival is a good prerogative, if not the best. But it's not a synonym for success, even during the kind of economy we've endured for nearly two years. Companies have to do more in bad economies than just duck their heads and wait for things to get better. When customers start buying again, they're not going to want the same products and services you offered when the recession hit. They will want to purchase products that will help their business to start growing again. If you don't have new products to offer them, they're not going to wait for you to catch up. They're going somewhere else.
That reality is, however, often one of the first ignored when economies go south. Cutting funding for new product R&D is one of the first, but deadliest, survival tactics. Tough times mean tough choices, but gutting a company's engines of recovery to ensure short-term survival almost always consigns it to long-term failure.
However, there are strategies for reducing R&D overhead that are based on software solutions already proven to cut the cost of other business functions without reducing their effectiveness. They automate processes such as resource management, communication and collaboration, and budgeting.
The software option
Companies that endure know how to plan for recovery, even as they're riding out a downturn. In almost every case, product R&D is part of the equation. Nothing is sacrosanct during bad times, but there are alternatives to wholesale R&D cutbacks that cripple the company in the long run.
Tighter project management is an often-overlooked alternative to damaging budget cuts. It saves money by keeping development efforts focused on meeting real customer needs. It reduces the cost and amount of time needed to bring products to market, which increases their profitability. Deciding which products to develop is ultimately a combination of facts and intuition, but companies can do a lot to make the facts flow faster and smoother through more effective project management. Even the most nebulous parts of the R&D process-the early research-can be placed in an organized framework that helps executives make better decisions sooner.
Rather than flying on intuition from the earliest phases, companies can assign numeric values to different priorities (for example, profit margin, time to market (TTM) and development costs), then weigh the priorities to arrive at a score. That gives the discovery process more focus, which eliminates the cost of vetting impractical concepts that don't meet the company's needs.
When a concept moves from research to development, the prerogative shifts heavily to cost control. Today's product development apparatus is typically spread over multiple sites in different time zones. It's commonly accepted that the greatest advantage in this model is the ability for different groups to work on projects concurrently, which reduces TTM.
Executing concurrent development, however, is difficult. This is where much of the waste in the development process occurs. Coordinating activity over e-mail and shared calendars is too manual, consuming too much time for the results it yields. Also, although software automation permeates most avenues of business, a surprising amount of R&D management is paper-based-at a great cost in terms of time and efficiency.
This is especially true when several departments, locations and partners are involved. Major project management processes such as sign-offs, notifications and version control must be automated to keep development moving ahead-without expensive mistakes caused by skipped steps or incorrect procedures.