Successful change management in R&D

Successful change in R&D starts and ends with people and their goals.

Change impacts people

Many of our clients, addressing technical or informatics problems, realise that the root causes of difficulties lie with people, process, organisation or culture. Whenever a substantial change is being made to systems or processes, ignoring the people issues is a recipe for failure. Any change that makes a worthwhile impact on the ‘bottom line’ will need people to work and think differently. Neither the business process reengineering cookbook, nor the Six Sigma continuous improvement movement, fully caters for some specific challenges of change within R&D groups.

Any change really worth making will make a difference to many people in the company. If the mission changes, this may leave some fighting a rearguard action. Cost savings have to come from somewhere – they threaten both budget-holders and employees’ security. Leading change requires vision, commitment, empathy. determination and follow-through.

Successful change management in R&D - Opinion

The focus of change must start and end with people and their goals

Why is change in R&D particularly hard?

R&D has lengthy timescales, diversity and complexity of process, and specialised skills. Cost is an important measure but not the only one.

The variety of needs across different research and development projects leads to challenges in organisation, standards, process definition, performance measurement and effective learning:

  • Autonomy for each project gives speed but loses economies of scale and complicates governance of service functions. A fully cross-charged model risks loss of competencies needed for long-term effectiveness.
  • One-size-fits-all processes are not practicable; there will be a need for much more agile ways of working. This can frustrate continuous improvement efforts and requires deeper thinking about how good performance is defined at the operational level.
  • Learning about risk and about method effectiveness can be hard to share.
  • Metrics for product attractiveness and R&D performance can be compared across areas only at a very high level. Reliable and agreed leading indicators for improvement may therefore be lacking.

Start with the reason why

Surprisingly often, changes in R&D organisations, processes and systems are made without a business goal that is defined clearly enough to measure the actual improvement achieved.

In our consulting work, to help plan and deliver significant changes to ways of working and supporting technology, the first question we ask, and will keep asking, is: why do you want to do this? What are the reasons for change?

Establish a clear framework for change

In our work with management teams of leading organisations, we see many different arguments for change. However, we find one thing in common: people seldom start with a shared vision that can be articulated clearly and followed through as principles to guide implementation decisions. What seems to be a clear vision of the future can turn out to be a mirage, as you reach the delivery horizon. As a first step, tease out the vision and change goals of individuals and weave them into a clearly articulated message of the reasons and goals for concerted, coherent change.

To learn more about how Tessella can help you successfully implement change in your R&D processes, visit


Andrew Chadwick

Andrew Chadwick

Andrew Chadwick is principal consultant in life sciences and healthcare at Tessella. He has ...

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