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How to Roll Out an Innovation Project Within Your Company: Tips and Best Practices

Innovation has always been a critical component of any organization's business success. But what is often less clear is how to translate new innovative ideas into practical implementation.

Sharing six strategies to help R&D teams effectively and successfully turn their innovative projects into full-fledged technology solutions accepted company-wide.


How to Transform an R&D Project into a Widely Accepted Technology Solution Across an Organization

To explore this question, Harvard Business Review analyzed several data sources from a major multinational oil company. It found that when the company adopted the cutting-edge technology that grew out of its R&D efforts, drilling costs were reduced by 15%, resulting in an average savings of $90 million a year per subsidiary. In an era of low oil prices, it brought about significant savings. 

However, despite this significant investment in innovation (as well as a clear indication that innovation pays off financially), HBR found that the company sometimes struggled to gain internal support for new technologies developed by its central R&D departments.

Our own analysis identified several common barriers and six strategies that have been particularly effective in encouraging the adoption of new tools and systems.

Here we go.

Strategies for Launching an Innovation R&D Project

1. Always Begin by Considering the Needs of the End User

Beginning with the end user in mind is a pivotal strategy for ensuring the successful implementation of innovative technologies within an organization. The common practice among many companies is to adopt a top-down approach, where new technologies are developed based on overarching strategic and financial goals, and then distributed across various departments and teams. While this method can sometimes yield results, it often encounters resistance from those on the front lines, such as engineers responsible for carrying out the implementation. These individuals may be hesitant to adopt directives from an R&D team located elsewhere, especially if the new technology has not yet proven its practical value in their specific work context.

A senior engineer highlighted this sentiment in an interview with HBR, noting, “Our operations departments don’t need new technology unless it’s proven to be absolutely useful.” This perspective is understandable, considering the high stakes involved with innovation projects. The risks and uncertainties associated with introducing new technologies can be significant, posing the potential to squander millions of dollars if the initiative fails.

However, adopting a bottom-up approach can effectively address these concerns. For instance, HBR recounted the experience of an engineer whose initial skepticism was overturned upon discovering a new system designed to mitigate water seepage in oil wells. This innovation, encountered during a visit to the headquarters, not only caught his interest but also led to its adoption despite initial resistance from his technology head. The remarkable success in reducing water seepage demonstrated the system’s value, convincing even the skeptical head of technology of its worth across the subsidiary.

The success of this innovation was not due to it being a simple “plug and play” solution. Instead, it required engineers to conduct extensive testing and modifications to tailor the technology to their specific operational needs. This example underscores the importance of engaging with the actual users of the technology from the outset. By directly involving those who will interact with the new system in their daily tasks, R&D teams can gain valuable insights into practical requirements, potential challenges, and the real-world impact of their innovations.

Convincing a few key individuals of the technology’s benefits can serve as a litmus test for its broader applicability. Although not every innovation will prove successful in every context, gaining traction within one segment of the organization can significantly bolster the case for a wider rollout. Therefore, it is crucial for R&D teams to not only focus on the technological aspects of their projects but also to invest time in understanding and addressing the needs, concerns, and realities of their end users. This user-centric approach can dramatically increase the likelihood of successful adoption and implementation across the entire organization, ensuring that innovative projects translate into tangible improvements and efficiencies.

2. Get Early Adopters Onboard

Securing the support of early adopters is a critical next step after initially focusing on end-user needs. To effectively drive the adoption of new technologies, R&D teams must identify which segments within the organization are most likely to embrace these innovations. Often, the best candidates are those who have faced persistent challenges or limitations with current systems and are therefore more open to exploring new solutions. For instance, engineers who have grappled with issues like water seepage for an extended period may be more inclined to welcome novel technologies that promise to address such problems.

Another approach involves targeting individuals or teams with a vested interest in the technology being developed. For example, when an R&D team is working on a digital upgrade for an essential analog control system, engaging with the operations team responsible for the original system can be highly beneficial. These teams are likely to possess deep insights into the system’s strengths and weaknesses, making them well-equipped to appreciate the advantages of the new digital solution.

The Harvard Business Review case study underscores the effectiveness of two strategic initiatives aimed at fostering closer ties between R&D teams and field engineers. Firstly, by identifying engineers with prior R&D experience, companies can create a bridge between current development efforts and practical field applications. Keeping these engineers informed about the latest technological advancements ensures that valuable insights from the field are incorporated into the R&D process, enhancing the relevance and applicability of new solutions.

Secondly, the establishment of R&D centers that facilitate movement of researchers across different divisions represents a forward-thinking approach to innovation. These centers serve as hubs of technological advancement, where R&D personnel can immerse themselves in the diverse operational contexts of the company. By working closely with field engineers in their natural environments, researchers can gain a firsthand understanding of specific challenges and requirements, enabling them to tailor their inventions more effectively to meet the needs of various teams.

Both strategies highlight the importance of creating a dynamic, interactive relationship between those developing new technologies and their eventual users. By doing so, R&D teams can ensure that their innovations are not only technically sound but also practically viable and directly responsive to the unique demands of their organization. Engaging early adopters in this way not only facilitates smoother implementation and integration of new technologies but also fosters a culture of innovation and collaboration throughout the company.

3. Navigate Financial Challenges

Navigating financial hurdles is often the final but significant obstacle that teams encounter when attempting to develop and deploy new systems. The dual requirements of software engineering expertise and considerable financial resources can appear daunting. However, these challenges are not necessarily prohibitive.

A wealth of inventive strategies exists for securing the necessary resources, whether through grants, external funding, or leveraging an internal incubator program. In the case of addressing water seepage, for instance, the R&D team successfully negotiated support by convincing an internal venture fund to finance the preliminary testing phase. This not only provided the essential capital but also demonstrated organizational faith in the project’s potential.

Furthermore, adopting a flexible approach to project management can offer a solution to financial and risk-related concerns. Our research indicates a natural hesitation among large project managers to introduce unproven technologies due to the perceived risk. An effective strategy to overcome this involves identifying smaller, less risky projects as initial testing grounds for new technologies. This allows for a proof of concept to be established with minimal financial risk. Once proven on a smaller scale, these innovations can then be more confidently rolled out to larger projects, equipped with tangible evidence of their effectiveness.

This strategic alignment of projects of varying scales creates a symbiotic relationship between different initiatives within the organization. Large projects benefit from minimized risk and the opportunity to implement proven technologies, while smaller projects gain access to cutting-edge solutions that would typically be beyond their budgetary reach. This not only mitigates potential financial losses but also fosters an environment of innovation and experimentation across the board.

It’s imperative for R&D departments to recognize that they may not always have the capacity to bear the full cost of introducing new technologies. Thus, exploring these creative financing solutions becomes essential. By doing so, they can engage and empower local champions within the organization who are key to the successful adoption and scaling of innovative technologies. These strategies not only circumvent the financial obstacle but also reinforce a culture of innovation, collaboration, and strategic risk-taking that can drive the organization forward.

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4. Foster Cross-Departmental Collaboration

Encouraging collaboration between different departments and teams can significantly enhance the adoption of new technologies. By fostering a culture of cross-departmental teamwork, R&D teams can leverage diverse perspectives, expertise, and insights, which can lead to more effective and universally accepted solutions. This strategy involves creating interdisciplinary teams that include members from R&D, operations, marketing, finance, and any other relevant department to ensure that the development and implementation of the technology consider all aspects of the business. Cross-departmental collaboration not only enriches the development process with a broader range of insights but also facilitates smoother integration of the technology into various areas of the organization, thereby enhancing overall buy-in.

5. Implement Agile Development and Iterative Feedback

Adopting an agile development approach can also play a crucial role in successfully rolling out new technologies. Agile methodologies prioritize flexibility, continuous improvement, and rapid iterations based on user feedback. By involving end-users and stakeholders in the development process through regular reviews and adjustments, R&D teams can ensure that the technology evolves in a way that closely aligns with user needs and organizational goals. This iterative process allows for the early identification and resolution of potential issues, making the final product more likely to be accepted and adopted across the organization. Additionally, this approach helps to build a sense of ownership and acceptance among users, as they see their feedback and suggestions being actively incorporated into the technology.

Both cross-departmental collaboration and agile development with iterative feedback are essential in bridging the gap between R&D projects and their successful adoption as technology solutions within an organization. These strategies complement the initial focus on end-user needs, engagement of early adopters, and overcoming financial obstacles by ensuring that the innovation process is inclusive, responsive, and aligned with the broader organizational context. By integrating these approaches into the innovation strategy, companies can significantly increase the likelihood that their R&D initiatives will result in impactful, widely accepted technological advancements.

6. Partner with a Technologically Advanced R&D Center

Seeking a partnership with an external R&D center that boasts advanced technological capabilities and expertise can offer another strategic avenue for accelerating the development and adoption of new technologies within an organization. This collaboration allows companies to tap into cutting-edge research, specialized knowledge, and innovative methodologies that may not be available in-house. By leveraging the resources and expertise of a tech partner, organizations can not only speed up the R&D process but also mitigate some of the financial and technical risks associated with developing new technologies from scratch.

A robust tech partner can provide access to a wide array of technologies, pilot projects, and prototypes, enabling an organization to explore and experiment with new solutions without the full commitment of internal resources. Furthermore, such a partnership can enhance the credibility of the technology being developed, making it easier to gain buy-in from internal stakeholders and early adopters. It also allows for the sharing of best practices, lessons learned, and market insights, which can refine the development process and ensure the technology is aligned with industry trends and customer expectations.

Incorporating a partnership with an external R&D center into the innovation strategy broadens the scope of possibilities for an organization, providing access to a richer pool of resources and expertise. This strategic move complements the internal efforts of engaging users, fostering cross-departmental collaboration, implementing agile development practices, and overcoming financial challenges. Together, these strategies form a comprehensive approach to transforming R&D projects into successful, widely accepted technology solutions across an organization, driving forward innovation and maintaining a competitive edge in the market.

An example of innovative solutions we build in our R&D Embedded Center

Wrapping up

In conclusion, transforming an R&D project into a technology solution that is embraced organization-wide involves a multifaceted approach that begins with a deep understanding of end-user needs and extends to strategic partnerships and agile development methodologies. The strategies outlined collectively form a robust framework for innovation.

The journey from R&D to widespread technological adoption within an organization is complex and fraught with challenges, from resistance to change among front-line users to financial and operational barriers. However, by adopting a user-centric approach, engaging early adopters, creatively overcoming financial hurdles, encouraging collaboration across departments, iterating based on feedback, and leveraging external expertise, organizations can significantly increase the odds of success. These strategies not only ensure that new technologies are developed with a clear understanding of real-world applications but also foster an environment where innovation is nurtured, supported, and effectively integrated into daily operations.

The case study from the Harvard Business Review and the strategies derived from it underscore the importance of a holistic and adaptable approach to innovation. By viewing each R&D project through the lens of these strategic pillars, organizations can navigate the complexities of technological adoption, ensuring that innovative solutions not only see the light of day but also deliver tangible benefits across the entire organization. Ultimately, the goal is to transform innovative ideas into practical, effective solutions that drive organizational success, enhance efficiency, and maintain a competitive edge in an ever-evolving technological landscape.

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