Know what "they" do

The actors involved in R2O usually have other responsibilities or roles in the research labs or on the operations floors. It should come as no surprise that these other activities can occasionally detract from contributing to a transition project. In order to successfully manage these actors, it is important to set reasonable timelines for the project and its elements, and, in doing so, understand how the individuals along the critical path spend their time.

The purpose of this exercise is not to micromanage individuals or place blame for the incompletion of a task. Nor is the focus on what is not getting done. Instead, the challenge is to determine how each employee participating in an R2O effort is incentivized. Incentives may be material (such as pay correlated with performance) or based on personal motives and values. An additional layer of complexity comes into play when R2O transitions intersect organizational boundaries, particularly when there is not an owner-contractor relationship.

One major reason why the progress of R2O activities becomes impeded is found at the “beginning” and “end” of the process (R2O is cyclic but the acronym implies it begins with research and ends with operations). Researchers find incentives in discovery, publishing, sharing results, and/or developing a marketable or otherwise usable product. Operations find incentives in accurate and timely delivery of information to their customers. On each side, the incentives are typically not connected with a successful transition, in part because the product emerging from the research side has yet to show benefit in operations. Combine this with a limited number of actors in the middle to facilitate transition, and it becomes quite clear why products simmer in the “valley of death”.

This underscores why a commitment to R2O, and collaboration, must be part of the culture in an organization or community, especially between parts of the public sector, where individual incentives are based less on monetary values and more on fulfilling the mission or mandate. Culture may originate from the motives of long-term employees, or require leadership to develop and foster. There are often different cultures between the public and private sectors, owing to the unique missions. With the private sector, there is typically a strong cost benefit connected to producing something of salable value. In order to increase that value, there must be some concept of the customer and the customer’s needs.

The best way to interest a customer, especially a consumer of scientific data or information, is to introduce them to a solution that accounts for how they operate—what they do. Some effort is required to produce a comprehensive profile. A basic profile may provide some generalizations about the kinds of tasks that a consumer performs, but without accounting for all of their daily details, small gaps are liable to emerge that inhibit the creation of the most narrowly tailored solution. A more comprehensive profile is not only important to potential product developers, but it can also have significant value in informing about possible gaps in services at the senior leadership level of an organization.

So whether “they” are the actors in the R2O cycle, or your customers, make sure to understand what “they” do in order to stay on time, on track, and on focus.