Moving From Research To Production
9 July, 2018
A while ago, I was working as a consultant for a company that was undertaking some advanced research. The CEO was dissatisfied with the company's ability to get the learnings from the research group embedded into real products. He felt like he was spending money on brilliant researchers, but they were always looking to do another piece of research to undertake and not a way for the company to benefit from the investment they were undertaking. It felt, to the CEO, like research for research sake.
After evaluating the situation, I came to the conclusion that while interesting research was ongoing, it had no real direction. The company was small so couldn't afford open ended investigations. I needed to find a solution. The company's goals were well understood. However, the researchers didn't understand the direction of company nor did they have experience how to build a product or understanding the value of shipping. I had to convince the researchers while the work they were doing was interesting (and it truly was) it would have no real value unless someone was using it. I then gave them a limited scope with obvious value to the customers and clients of the company. I asked them to refocus and determine how we could take the research to build and improve five specific features. Initially, reactions were mixed. Some of the researchers were happy but others were frustrated because they just wanted to focus on pure research. Next, I worked with the executives to develop product roadmap with specific dates on it recognizing that If you fix dates on a roadmap, you can't fix what the features will be. However, by fixing the dates we were able to ask people about what they could achieve by that time. This then drove people to work towards the end goal of shipping and was used to drive the research into products and get value from the investment that had already taken place and to justify more investment in the future.
By giving the researchers, I was able to drive them to a conclusion. Before this, they had no way of judging whether their research was helpful or not, they could only determine whether it was interesting or not. Time-boxing projects creates value where non-specific deliverables and non-specific dates begs for investment. Forcing to have something shipped tends to align people, give people's roles meaning and delivers value to customers.
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