Why do R2O transitions fail before completion?
Not all research byproducts that enter the R2O cycle exit it with a successful implementation in front of a practitioner. And while this is never an ideal scenario, this is not a failure of the process so long as the cycle has provided a rigorous testing and evaluation environment. Failures arise when research byproducts fail to reach operational implementation because the R2O cycle slows down or breaks down. In other words, the transition failure is the result of complications of the process itself, rather than an issue that is specific to the introduced byproduct.
Collaboration and interdependence between organizational support, the research idea, and operational need have summarily described the fundamental mechanics of the R2O cycle, but these are very much first order descriptors rather than attributes of individual stages internal to the cycle. This is important to distinguish because too much interdependence within the cycle can thwart R2O activities by reducing the speed at which the transition can occur. Urgency is necessary because many research projects have fixed timelines. Prolonged delays can virtually end an effort because the research team no longer has the funding to participate in the evaluation or improvement process.
The mitigating task for this risk is to ensure that the stages of the R2O cycle and intermediary activities are streamlined. As part of this, “R2O optimizers”, the process owners, should identify places within the cycle that a time gap is likely to form. This examination should move beyond the cursory glance of the “gateways” to determine whether all of the personnel and groups are necessary. Each person or group within the cycle should be responsive to a core question of the transition.
- Is the scientific basis for the research byproduct valid?
- Is there an identified operational user? Is it presented in a manner that is suitable to operations?
- Is there a budget for supporting the routine production of the research byproduct? Are the necessary technical systems and ancillary data in place?
- Has sufficient training been developed for widespread deployment?
The forums that answer these questions should not need rigidity to define solutions. Necessitated agility requires a limited or flattened hierarchical structure and easy accessibility to the structure’s elements. Too many vertical players or components, whether they are managers, boards, institutions, or even technical systems that require special access and standards, can prove disruptive to nimbly navigating a R2O cycle, even if they are positioned with the best of intentions.
In order to enable navigation of the R2O cycle, research projects should include time (and funding) for research teams to complete the operational transition, instead of funding solely the research, or the research and the initial demonstration, without enabling further headway into the implementation. If this is not possible, sufficient coordination must exist between sponsored research teams and operational implementers, and the activities of multiple concurrent R2O projects should be staggered so that personnel supporting one stage within an enterprise R2O cycle are not overwhelmed, causing the delay of some projects. This seems simple in theory but more difficult to execute in practice because the amount of time required to complete a transition is dependent on the success of the initial demonstration. So while many research projects are funded for a fixed period of time, the implementation effort is largely a wildcard.
As a result of this, R2O projects require leadership that inspires urgency and creates a culture through practice that embodies the importance of steadily and expeditiously moving forward without complex interdependencies. Such a culture requires that neither people nor process inhibit progress even if they must be aware of it. The ideal culture begins with a shared belief that the research project has the potential to meaningfully alter operations. Without a joint commitment from research and operations as a new project enters the R2O cycle, it is difficult to gain or maintain momentum that fuels collaboration throughout the transition. And without that momentum, the threat of failure looms.