Agile R&D organization.

Agile principles are currently in vogue. Quintessentially, they represent a transfer of lean management methods – known from the operations context – to explorative activities. Agile principles were first employed in software engineering. In several projects in the chemical industry, 3con has gathered experience with agile works.

What are typical challenges for R&D units in large companies?
Here, we are talking about large units which are relatively remote from the customers and their markets. Compared e.g. to operations, processes and line-up have often been changed little. Frequently, the designated project manager has no effective grip on her/his team and she/he receives little direct feedback from the internal customer. Many projects are stopped too late, projects with results are all too often over budget and past their deadlines. Consequently, R&D units tend to find themselves under a constant pressure of justification.

You propagate agile elements as an antidote – why?
The agile principles bring the value for the customer into focus, and a consistent orientation towards the next (interim) result. Instead of a (theoretically) perfectly planned schedule, we have the (practically) perfectly working team, which can persist even in a complex environment that is dynamically evolving. Especially in fields not typical for agile methods, we have seen convincing effects in case of the agile principles being adapted to the specific general conditions.

Where do you see the challenges in applying agile methods?
You have to be clear on the fact that you cannot effectively change large companies, which have evolved over many years, simply by hiring a scrum coach and by organizing some advanced trainings. R&D in the chemical or process industries is something different than software development, both with regards to content and to culture. Agile working in the teams has to be brought together with the processes and decision structures of the management. At the end of the day, you have to ask yourselves jointly if you want to put into question the organization based on specialist expertise. And if so, at which pace and with which intermediate steps to manage the transition into an agile project organization.

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