Modern Challenges of R&D Teams in Manufacturing


Manufacturing is an all-encompassing industry that touches everything, from food production to biotechnology to building materials. From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed, you interact with the manufacturing industry.

At the core of all manufacturing innovations are research and development (R&D) teams. These teams drive economic growth by producing strategies, designs, process improvements and products that bring value to both consumers and companies—as well as create competitive advantages for manufacturers.

As of 2022, the U.S. manufacturing market was worth $7.1 trillion, boasting a 4.6% growth rate in that year. In 2021, global spending on research and development teams has hit an all-time high of $1.7 trillion.

There are more eyes (and pressure) on manufacturing R&D teams to quickly produce quality products than ever before. This leads to new challenges in an environment that’s more competitive than ever.

Major Challenges Facing Today’s R&D Teams

As a growing number of manufacturing teams are working across locations and job sites, they face challenges that didn’t exist in the past. From food to automobiles and nearly any other product, all manufacturing teams face a commonality: it’s difficult to reach the lofty quality and compliance standards expected of them when relying on disjointed work management systems. This is especially true for remote teams.

We’ve outlined only a few of the widespread challenges that manufacturing teams face.

1. Difficult to Balance Speed and Quality of New Product Development

R&D teams are already under constant pressure to deliver new products as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality. Doing so in a remote work environment is even more challenging.

As 42% of fast innovators are also strong innovators, R&D teams are always racing to push new products to market. The first-mover advantage in research and development is real. It gives those who go to market first a leg up in gaining market share and lowering development costs. Yet, at the same time, the need for high quality is also ever-present. Balancing these two demands is difficult.

Project managers in this space often gravitate toward a particular methodology that may not align with how their team prefers to work. Waterfall is ideal for mapping projects into linear, sequential phases. This makes it appealing to engineering and quality assurance teams at the outset of a project. Each phase is dependent on the previous phase’s deliverables, which makes this methodology more rigid compared with other options.

Agile is another common project management methodology that is significantly more iterative compared to waterfall. Agile gives R&D teams more flexibility to adapt as they accumulate feedback from stakeholders and customers.

Focusing on just one work methodology can lead to trade-offs in the speed of innovation versus product quality.

The Solution: Mix Methodologies on One Platform

A flexible yet all-in-one solution such as project management software lets teams embrace multiple methodologies within the same project. While a strict waterfall plan is often ideal at the outset of a project to provide a predictable path to a quality product, R&D team members solving specific challenges within that plan— such as evaluating new materials to reduce friction or add durability—will likely find an iterative agile approach more useful. Software can accommodate both within one initiative.

Related: Agile vs Waterfall and the Rise of Hybrid Projects

2. Unreliable Resource & Timeline Planning Slows Down Projects

Another challenge R&D teams face is accurately planning project resources and timelines. It doesn’t matter how big or small the manufacturing research and development project is. Its success hinges on thorough planning and organization from the start. Without the ease of a quick hallway conversation or project update, it’s increasingly difficult for R&D teams to grasp a full understanding of resource visibility and timeline tracking.

In a remote environment, understanding who’s working on what, as well as the expected completion date for that work, takes on new meaning. A Gartner study found that without accurate resource management data, teams overestimate their capacity to take on new work. That overestimation can significantly impact project timelines, potentially extending the duration of a four-month project to as much as a year.

Screenshot of the 2024 manufacturing ebook by ProjectManager

The Solution: Unite Resource Management and Project Planning in One Platform

Many R&D teams struggle with juggling multiple-point solutions to track tasks, assignments and time separately. Project management software establishes one comprehensive plan that encompasses tasks, assignments, resource workload and more. This centralized approach eliminates uninformed decisions that could jeopardize important timelines.

Project management software not only accounts for the availability of a resource but also his or her unique expertise. For example, if the bottleneck is finding machinists, but leaders instead add more mechanical engineers to the team, they will continue running into roadblocks. Having a single source of information helps R&D leaders pinpoint job skills necessary for project success.

3. Catering to Team Members With Different Roles and Skill Sets

Who’s responsible for what aspects of the project, and what’s the feedback process like? You can’t keep this information in a black box that’s supported by ad-hoc collaboration methods.

There are three basic roles within R&D teams: sponsor, leader and team member. Sponsors are focused on the outcome of the project and keep track of key milestones; however, they don’t require task-level visibility. Project leads are focused on milestones as well as the details surrounding individual tasks. Team members often work in a silo and are focused on their specific set of tasks. For maximum productivity, all three roles require a clear, intuitive path to the data and insights they need.

Typically, research and development teams in the manufacturing industry rely on outdated tools such as Excel spreadsheets, emails and instant messaging to collaborate and keep track of projects. But when each role or skill set within the team has unique data needs, those siloed sources of information begin to quickly multiply. You need to create PowerPoint slides manually for executive updates, while team leaders manage master spreadsheets and assign individual tasks over email.

Once again, in a remote environment, siloed information and workflows accelerate the difficulties these teams already face to perform at their peak. Too much time is wasted searching for the right information or the latest document update. Collaboration and productivity slow, while misunderstandings and frustration rise.

The Solution: Software Caters to Unique Needs for Maximum Productivity

Diversified skill sets thrive in a remote environment as R&D team members can easily find the data that’s meaningful to them while still working in the format of their choice. Collaborating at the task level through tools such as kanban boards and Gantt charts lets team members see data and assignments in one place without being overwhelmed with too many details that don’t involve them.

At the same time, executives can see high-level metrics in a real-time dashboard, while team leaders can manage and assess even the smallest detail.

Our Project Management Software Can Deliver Quality Products to Market Faster

The fact remains: some manufacturing companies are inherently more successful in R&D than others, so it’s important to give your business a leg up whenever possible. If you haven’t yet considered how to support a remote work environment, now is an excellent time to do so. Explore how powerful online software can help you overcome obstacles that your team is facing and take a free 30-day trial of our software.

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