Can governance stifle R2O?

Establishing processes and procedures that control the R2O cycle is important to ensure effort is allocated appropriately and priorities are maintained, especially when it comes to organizational initiatives and major community programs. What about those smaller efforts that are ongoing and organic, though? It is easy to crush grassroots innovation with monolithic processes and governance structures that require effort solely to navigate. They can also discourage eager employees who seek to improve their organization or contribute to the community.

Most grassroots innovations and small research transitions are of only marginal cost to the organization but have the potential to modernize operations like larger efforts. More importantly, it is often in these situations that the essential R2O relationship exists; that is, there is a will for research and operations to partner together to solve a problem. That relationship is important to foster.

Effective R2O governance should scale and keep scope in mind. They should also allow for fluid and timely navigation. Excessive stages and timelines discourage R2O. In general, the greater the number of different organizations or business units, and higher cost, the more governance and formal oversight should exist, especially if the R2O initiatives are tied to major programs that are expected to translate into value for operations. This is especially true when a different organization or business unit is funded to sustain research than the initial research and development. The funding and personnel profile should be balanced or integrated across the stages of the R2O cycle.

It can sometimes be difficult to classify initiatives in order to anticipate their scale, but consider the following:

  • The number of personnel involved. If a single researcher and practitioner are engaged in a joint project, the most important aspect is for R2O governance to monitor, not manage, the activity. Only if formal resources beyond personnel time of the initial individuals are requested should managers invoke a greater level of scrutiny, but it is important to catalog all efforts to ensure there are no personnel working on duplicate tasks, and those tasks do not conflict with any new initiatives or upcoming programs. Monitoring the process also allows managers to anticipate whether funding is necessary in subsequent budget periods.
  • Applicability to the rest of the organization. If it becomes apparent that an R2O effort is going to have value across an organization, a greater level of oversight can be effective in establishing stages within the R2O cycle and ensuring that a sufficient user group is available and representative of the potentially diverse nature of the operations sector.
  • Context with relation to major programs. Though major programs may have prescribed objectives within the R2O cycle, new initiatives may develop as and after research and development commences, especially when major programs span several years. Good governance should enable these additional efforts to at least initially flourish because they stand to increase the value of the research investment, so long as these new efforts do not compete with initiatives that are already planned and in motion. For example, competition within a research organization or amongst organizations to devise different algorithms that solve the same problem can pose an unnecessary strain on R2O budgets. The best way to ameliorate such competition is to develop governance that encourages groups with different ideas to collaborate on a solution.

One major challenge with organic R2O initiatives is sustainability. Research organizations and contractors are generally not sustained over the long-term to provide consistent and reliable support for research projects that may have found a limited set of routine users in operations, but due to the lack of attention from management, or sufficient resources, were not better formalized or funded. There are no easy answers to this challenge, but it may be possible to implement a technical infrastructure in a meager funding regime that enables sustained R2O transitions absent an organizational initiative or program.