Ten weeks ago, I became involved with Semano’s R&D team in order to further drive process improvements. Since today marks my tenth week leading the team, I thought I’d reflect on some lessons learned (often the hard way).
1. Don’t “think”, “know”.
Far too many times people present opinion as fact. This hurts projects in R&D more than anything since R&D is fundamentally driven by curiosity. By stating an opinion as fact, it ends the dialogue and closes the door to experimentation. When someone needs information in order to make a crucial decision at Semano and someone volunteers an answer, we always follow up by asking the person if they think or if they know.
2. Decide what you want you want to learn in advance
Before we embark on any R&D test, we always have to state what we are trying to learn up front. Starting a project with unclear goals will lead to unclear results. It’s surprising how often tests are created before the goals, and only during the debrief from the test that goals are then created!
3. Write everything down
Far too often, I try to remember the results of tests without writing them down especially when I don’t think the results are particularly interesting. It never fails, however, that when I try to remember, the subject will come up weeks later out of the blue and I’ll be forced to admit I only “think” the results were such and such, I do not know.
4. Keep everything in the same place
This goes along with number three. Writing down results is great, but if you can’t find them when you need them, they won’t help. In order to combat that, I centralized all R&D data with a master index that links to the raw data.
5. Above all, be curious
The five whys are used in lean manufacturing in order to get to the root cause of a problem. In R&D and the process improvement side, I use the five “How’s”. Start with the goal of your R&D. Our’s is to refine our processing to create better anodize coatings in less time. Next ask how five times. Very quickly you’ll find yourself saying, I don’t know how! Usually this is the best place to start R&D and hopefully find out how.