Out of the Sandbox

The “sandbox” is an appropriate metaphor describing the protective cocoon of R&D; teams. We all know the mythical state of “almost done” where projects age gracefully. However, when a project is finally “done”, it has to face the music… how do you move it to “production”? When “ready to deploy”, there are several ways to continue the project. It all boils down to resources – people, systems, hardware.

Most technology innovation projects are supposed to either improve/replace an existing function, or to add a new function to an existing system. In this case, the optimal resource allocation for the company is to have the same team that is working on the existing production system (“the IT guys”) deploy the change. In several companies that I worked for, and from what I know from many colleagues, that is the process followed by many.

If a technology innovation project is developing a completely new system for a new business, it makes sense to create a new team in IT. Of course, everybody talks about “radical innovation”, but that’s more an aspiration than a reality. So, thankfully for the org chart, most innovation projects do not fall into this category. One can see, now and then, a major new idea making it through the obstacles course that is the modern large corporation. I have seen some…

For a test environment, I don’t think it is  possible or even advisable to build replicas of various production systems test environment in the R&D; lab – the cost of hardware is a major impediment, as well as the complexity of setting them up and maintaining them. That’s why I always suggest teams find a way to share test environments, as R&D; needs are usually short-lived and/or limited.

The main issue is always the “impedance mismatch” between R&D; teams and traditional IT teams. (The concept of impedance matching was originally developed for electrical engineering, but can be applied to any other field where a form of energy is transferred between two systems).  In a nutshell, there is a fundamental difference between the best processes for doing what a corporate  IT  team is doing, and best technology innovation processes. It is the major challenge for each company that wants to be innovative to find ways to, as seamlessly as possible, move from R&D; to production-level development and deployment. There is no one right answer to this question, and many corporate groups need to collaborate and work together if they want to have any chance at succeeding. Many large, otherwise successful companies are well known for having wonderful R&D; that very rarely makes it to production (if ever…).  There are ways, principles to apply, but no simple recipe, let alone a cookbook, to rescue the ones facing the problem for the first time.