Optimization and improvement are 2 major themes when it comes to most businesses. We are all looking for ways to increase revenue, and clients, and do better in general. Not only that, it is very important to make those improvements stick in order to make a permanent change for the better.
No matter how excited the whole team may be at the beginning it takes persistence and a strong mind to carry the change through. In fact, a lot of process improvement efforts tend to sizzle out after just a year.
To help get you an advantage in this effort, we have asked industry professionals to share their best advice on how to improve process efficiency in the R&D sector. Here is what they came up with alongside some general insights about the topic.
What is process efficiency?
Process efficiency is a term that aims to evaluate how effectively you are running your processes and business.
To do so, we usually look at the amount of effort, resources, and time we need to invest in order to reach the defined goal. Understanding and possibly measuring this metric allows teams to evaluate their processes, adapt them, and change the direct and indirect outcomes they may have on the business.
Depending on the business, the goals may differ but will stay in the realm of acquiring a client, manufacturing a product, giving an improvement to the product, or something similar. It is best to pick an end-business goal to review the whole process. However, if you are trying to evaluate separate parts of the process, you may want to pick intermediary goals, like finishing the designs or acquiring leads.
Ravi Sharma, founder and CEO of Webomaze
A special key element that stood out in the effort to improve process efficiency was process mindfulness. This idea centers on establishing a culture in which each team member—regardless of their position—is encouraged to regularly assess and make suggestions for changes to their own procedures.
Learn more about setting business goals by using the process-oriented OKR technique.
Benefits of an efficient process
Having an efficient process leads to various benefits for your business. Such as limiting waste, increasing customer satisfaction, and others. Most importantly, it allows you to save money and maximize the results.
Jan Chapman, Co-Founder and Managing Director of MSP Blueshift
I think you can increase process effectiveness by lowering the cost. Cost reduction entails investigating and enhancing operational procedures to cut costs for your firm. When costs are decreased as a result of an improvement program, earnings may increase.
Here are some of the most commonly mentioned benefits gained from increasing process efficiency:
- Fewer errors – reviewing and improving your process will guarantee the team knows what should be done and follows the procedure.
- Increased productivity – an efficient process allows for the team members to perform in the best way without having to waste time on unimportant things.
- Reduced expenses – fewer errors and increased productivity will lead to reduced costs.
- More flexibility – with a good understanding of how things are done, the teams will be more flexible and adaptive in the face of change.
- Better customer experience – customers will enjoy working with a company that has a stable and time-proven process to rely on.
Best advice on how to improve process efficiency in R&D
Now that we have discussed why you should improve process efficiency, let’s turn to our business professionals’ advice on how to achieve it. Here are their best tips for your R&D teams.
1. Collect data on your process
Khunshan Ahmad, CEO of EvolveDash Inc.
The first step is to collect all the data created throughout the R&D process. By using tools and technology, you can analyze this data for insights into your R&D process. This will enable you to identify and remove processes and tasks that take too much time without adding any value.
Improve your process efficiency by leveraging data that you already own. What Khunshan Ahmad points out here is that you need to analyze your processes in order to optimize the costs and time spent. And by collecting the data from your own company, you can do this much faster.
If you use task management solutions, such an undertaking can even be automated for easier access.
2. Hear your team out
Lily Li, Customer Service Manager at Suproto
In 2017, Suproto’s R&D team relied heavily on physical prototypes, resulting in prolonged design validation phases, resulting in wasted resources and time. With an academic background as an engineer, I quickly realized the potential of computer-aided design (CAD) software. Within a year, physical prototypes were reduced by 40 percent. The error was caught early and corrected, saving about $150,000 in wasted resources. The time-to-market for projects has been reduced by 25%.
Lily Li from Supporto shares her story of how her personal experience allowed the team to improve their performance and cut waste. Talking to the people who work within the process gives you a better insight into what needs to be done and which processes can be optimized further.
Learn more about team management and optimization tactics with this team development cycle diagram.
3. Define the issues
Cameron Heinz, Research And Development Specialist at Mobility Nest
To improve efficiency, it’s crucial to ensure you’re solving the correct problems. According to a Harvard Business Review article defining and articulating problems accurately is essential. It helps streamline processes by addressing core issues rather than symptoms.
Once you analyze the process itself, it is crucial to define which of the parts need to be fixed. What Cameron Heinz reminds us of here is that this will allow you to focus and solve the biggest issues first, before moving on to the smaller problems. Knowing the full scope will also give you a better understanding of the full scope and what should be prioritized.
4. Rethink the process
Surya Sanchez, founder of an IT consultancy DeepIdea Lab
Our approach involves closely analyzing existing workflows and identifying bottlenecks or areas for improvement. By leveraging our expertise in process optimization, we have successfully implemented strategies that have resulted in significant time and cost savings for our clients.
Our ability to identify and address inefficiencies has been a crucial factor in our client’s success.
Surya Sanchez talks about the importance of reshaping the process itself when necessary. In some cases, this will only include some minor adjustments. However, with larger inefficiencies, you should be prepared to overhaul the entire procedure.
To better understand the current state and where the major bottlenecks appear, it is a good idea to use visual project management software. Something shaped like a Kanban board can visualize the process steps and allow you to spot where the delays happen.
Learn more about Kanban as an approach to project management.
5. Set clear goals and KPIs
Naha, co-founder of Nihonarubaito
Clear Project Goals and Objectives. Start with a well-defined project scope and clear objectives. Ensure that all team members understand the project’s purpose and goals. Ambiguity can lead to inefficiencies.
If you are just starting with a new project or a team, make sure the goals and KPIs are clear for everyone involved. As mentioned by Naha, this will provide a shared vision and align efforts more naturally. The last thing you want when trying to improve process efficiency is a team working without a clear end goal in mind.
6. Align R&D goals with business goals
Mask Byrne, from giftsideasguid.com
During a project at my previous firm, we faced significant delays due to misaligned objectives. By ensuring our R&D projects were in sync with our overall business strategy, vision, and goals, we could prioritize based on strategic fit, potential impact, and feasibility. This alignment saved us countless hours and resources.
Another aspect brought forth by Mark Byrne is the importance of all team goals aligning with the larger business goals. Ensuring there is cohesion throughout, will ensure everyone is reaching the same milestone instead of focusing on something that may be relative to the team, but not an overall fit to the larger objective.
Learn about business goal-setting strategies.
7. Provide your team with the right resources
Jeff Mains, CEO of Champion Leadership Group LLC
First and foremost, provide your staff with the necessary resources to succeed. Investing in cutting-edge technology that improves automation, data analysis, and teamwork is one such example. Furthermore, intensive training is essential for making the most of these resources.
Improving your process often means you also have to improve the tools and expertise of your team. By giving them an environment to thrive, you are setting up the R&D team to deliver the breakthroughs that your business requires.
It is also a good way to keep your team motivated and engaged in the process.
8. Prioritize cross-functional teams and collaboration
Hilda Wong, Founder of Content Dog
Another crucial factor is assembling cross-functional teams. Collaboration among experts from R&D and other fields often leads to creative solutions and faster problem-solving. These diverse perspectives can spark innovative ideas and help overcome obstacles more effectively.
Get all hands on deck when it comes to open communication lines and collaboration. As Hilda expertly points out here, allowing teams to talk to one another leads to easier and more productive collaboration efforts.
Cross-team collaboration can lead to various positive effects for your company, one of which is process efficiency improvement.
9. Outsource when more effective
Eric Jones, CEO at Couture Candy
Being in this industry for years, I believe an organization must not shy away from outsourcing certain aspects of R&D. It can provide access to explicit skills and resources, accelerating project timelines. With practical strategies, you can optimize the R&D process, deliver superior solutions, and position your firm as a sustained business in this dynamic industry.
Another great piece of advice comes from Eric Jones who suggests not limiting yourself to the resources within the organization. Surely, your team can do almost anything, but is it always effective for them to do it all? A great leader should recognize their strengths and make the call to outsource if the timeline requires it.
To do so, keeping an eye on the timeline of the project is also very important. Here are a few timeline management tools for you to consider.
10. Consider automation
Jason Tebeau, President and CEO of Da Vinci Medical USA
In my experience, the relentless pursuit of automation has been a standout factor in the quest to increase process efficiency. We significantly increased productivity by carefully identifying and automating time-consuming, repetitive tasks. For instance, to handle routine inquiries in a customer service setting, we implemented chatbots and AI-powered systems, freeing up human agents to concentrate on complex issues.
With over 20 years of entrepreneurial leadership and product development experience, Jason Tebeau reminds us not to forget the power of automation. This can help to streamline workflows, cut down on errors, and reallocate human resources to higher-value tasks. The success of this strategy depends on the ability to pick the appropriate technologies and seamlessly incorporate them into the current processes.
11. Implement lean methods
Will Yang, Head of Growth & Customer Success at Instrumentl
Another successful strategy has been integrating lean principles into our project framework. Lean methodology helps us minimize waste in our processes while maximizing productivity. For instance, we used lean principles to align our project goals with our customer needs, increasing the relevance of the product and hence the number of grants we could apply to.
Will Yang suggests considering a more lean and customer-centric approach to your R&D projects. Such alignment allows us to take in customer preferences and become more adaptive when trying to improve process efficiency.
Learn how Lean compares vs Agile and decide if this approach is the right one for you.
12. Implement Agile
Darren Wayland, Founder of BBQHost
Using Agile techniques is a critical approach for improving process efficiency in R&D initiatives. Agile fosters adaptability, faster decision-making, and a focus on providing value at each stage by breaking down complicated projects into smaller, manageable tasks and fostering regular collaboration among cross-functional teams.
Taking it in a similar direction, Darren Wayland suggests trying to apply Agile. He also points out that using digital tools and technologies like project management software, data analytics, and virtual collaboration platforms can help to streamline data gathering, analysis, and sharing, decreasing manual effort and improving communication.
13. Prevent problems by anticipating future events
Vinika Garg, COO of Webomaze
One strategy to improve process efficiency in research and development projects is to avoid problems by anticipating certain events and creating measurements to safeguard against them. It is a general idea to improve process efficiency in research and development, but it can also be specific in certain areas.
According to Vinika Garg, a key to process improvement may be anticipating what may go wrong. However, it is not very easy, as it requires analysis, past references, and progress tracking. Once the possible issue that could occur is found, a plan should be made as a measurement to safeguard and prevent the problem from arising. This process must be done consistently because of its nonlinear nature, as prevention of a particular problem can lead to another one.
14. Create cost-conscious designs
Eugene Klimaszewski, president of Mammoth Security
A cost-conscious design may boost and improve the process efficiency of research and development processes. In particular, knowledge of designing based on customer requirements for satisfaction is indispensable if the R&D team wants to improve their process efficiency.
While R&D teams are about innovations and improvements, not all breakthroughs must be the most expensive ones. Eugene Klimaszewski suggests trying to make cost-conscious designs while focusing on process efficiency improvements. The efficient means of using the resource may seem like slow progress, but it prevents any external issue from dictating the progress of a project.
15. Embrace the discovery phase
Karol Kłaczyński, Head of Product at Brand24
Embrace ‘Discovery’: I’m a big fan of product management through ‘discovery’. Before diving into development, we spend time understanding the problem, the market, and the user. This ensures that our R&D efforts are laser-focused on what truly matters.
While your designs may be cost-conscious, there is no need to reign it in on the discovery phase. According to Karol Kłaczyński, this is the process stage to embrace and really hone in on what you are trying to build.
The more you discuss and review during this phase, the better thought out your product will be. You will have answers on why things are done in a certain way and move forward more confidently.
16. Follow industry trends and maintain relationships
Barbara Stern, editor-in-chief at Ottoman Textiles
The wholesale industry is all about volume and relationships. By regularly engaging with our suppliers and clients, we gained firsthand insights into emerging needs and potential bottlenecks. This proactive approach allowed us to adjust our R&D priorities quickly, ensuring we were always a step ahead.
Knowing your industry is another important factor according to Barbara Stern. This allows you to predict the trends, as well as maintain relationships with other businesses that you may need to collaborate with.
Whether it is your suppliers, vendors, or competition, keeping up with the industry is an important factor to ensure you stay competitive.
17. Set up feedback loops
Michał Kierul, CEO at INTechHouse and SoftBlue S.A.
Feedback Loops: We set up regular feedback sessions with stakeholders and potential users. This ensured that our R&D efforts were aligned with actual needs.
Michał Kierul adds that setting up and maintaining open channels to receive feedback plays an important role in improving the process efficiency. Your clients, partners, and suppliers see different parts of the process and hold valuable information for you.
18. Measure and continue improving
Will Yang, Head of Growth & Customer Success at Instrumentl
Constant assessment and adjustment have been fundamental to improving our process efficiency. We implement a rigorous feedback mechanism that allows for regular review of our strategies and results. This regular reassessment offers the space to celebrate victories, acknowledge shortfalls, and most importantly, learn from both.
As with any change the last thing you should be doing is reviewing the results of your efforts to try and improve process efficiency. Once you identify a specific aspect of the project that needs enhancement, you need to decide how it will be done, do it, and then measure the result to see if you succeeded.
Agile practitioners use the concept of Agile retrospectives to perform a review of their efforts on a regular basis. Allowing them to constantly evolve and improve their process.
Process efficiency improvement overview
As you can see, there are many ways and paths to improve process efficiency within your team. However, this does not mean you have to try out everything at once. Pick a few points that make the most sense and implement them. This way, you can move through the changes gradually and understand which of them had the biggest impact.
Implementing a visual project management solution for your team can also be a good place to start. This will allow you to better understand the current process as well as the blockers you are currently facing. Using a tool like Teamhood will allow you to map out the entire process on an advanced Kanban board, use the performance metrics to understand which parts of the process are lacking, and implement the required changes together with your team.
Learn more about what Teamhood can offer.
Passionate content marketer looking to bring better solutions to the project management space.
2020 - Present Marketing specialist at Teamhood.
2014 - 2020 Marketing manager for Eylean.