posted 1 Sep 1999 in Volume 3 Issue 1
Business-Driven Research & Development, Managing Knowledge to Create
Book review by Patterson Shafer, Senior Consultant of Prescients. Norwalk, CT USA
Author: Dr. Ashok Ganguly
Publisher: Macmillan Press, London 1999
ISBN: 0333 77650
Upon first glance, the title of this book would seem to immediately isolate its relevance to a relatively small corner of the manufacturing world i.e. research and development. However, the reader quickly identifies with the author's observations and beliefs, and realises that they apply across a broad spectrum of manufacturing and service functions. Whether a business is high-tech, low-tech, or no-tech, competitive pressures demand sophistication and accountability in the way we identify and meet customer needs.
In his book, Dr. Ganguly, former Worldwide Director of Research and Development at Unilever, and Chairman of Unilever India, takes a decidedly academic approach to his subject matter. He eloquently tracks and critiques management of the research and development function, originating with the first generation approach (based on faith); through stifling, ROI directed efforts of the second generation; past a more balanced, third generation approach, to what Dr. Ganguly describes as a more holistic, market-driven approach common today. He critiques previous writings, and explores the macroeconomic and global cultural drivers behind divergent approaches to managing research and development.
All this may seem to be a bit too academic for a book that essentially purports to be a hand guide to optimising research and development within any organisation. However, his critique of previous efforts do offer valuable insights and lessons learned, and orient the reader in such a way that the rest of the text is easily understandable and applicable to the situations business leaders currently face.
At the heart of this book is the debate surrounding research. Should it be pure, unencumbered by performance metrics or managerial oversight? Would our world enjoy the technical sophistication it does today, were scientists are always forced to pursue the bottom line? Dr. Ganguly insists that while free, unencumbered research may have had its time and place, goal driven research, that is accountable to viability in the market place and social relevance is absolutely right for today. It is his view that accountability is the essential underpinning of research efforts, and in fact enables far greater productivity. So, how does one achieve accountability from a group that speaks in tongues so unfamiliar to traditional business leaders?
The answers lie with partnerships, formed both within and outside the organisation. Accountability is achieved through strong alignment of research and development with the organisation's strategy, and with other key business functions including Human Resources, IT, sales and marketing, and finance. Leaders must speak the language of technology, and technologists, the language of business.
Research organisations must also partner outside the company. Dr. Ganguly clearly has substantial experience in partnering with academic institutions. He writes in-depth on how to define and manage those relationships. If anything is missing here, it is perhaps a more detailed exploration of partnering along the supply chain, with vendors and with customers. Another component of accountability is the application of performance metrics. Dr. Ganguly does an adequate job of addressing metrics from a theoretical perspective, but there is no attempt to guide the user through the process of establishing metrics and identifying the sources of data by which one measures performance.
Another major factor is IT. Competitive pressures and the ever-increasing intensity of innovation have been enabled by an increasing reliance on technology. The by-product has been a facilitated multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural approach to research and development. Technology has fostered a redefinition of how we do research, allowing the migration from concentrated research campuses to dispersed, asynchronous research organisations. And one could argue, technology has enabled more accurate understandings of market and consumer needs.
In sum, Business-Driven Research & Development is an excellent, clearly organised, thought provoking overview of managing research and development efforts. It pushes its reader to evaluate his or her own approaches to accountability, and to expand the notion of partnerships to the point of a truly holistic view towards defining and optimising products and services. While it does not provide a step by step, point by point to-do list, it does provide a broad view of all the critical success factors in managing research and development, as well as knowledge management. Business-Driven Research & Development includes several detailed process templates, including models for tracking and assessing risk and optimising the innovation process. Dr. Ganguly also provides helpful insight into decision support systems and critical issues regarding redefining learning and education, and the partnership with Human Resources.
Patterson Shafer is Senior Consultant of Prescients. Norwalk, CT USA. He can be contacted at: email@example.com