September 30, 2015
Are chemists also businesspeople?
It might seem like an odd question, but consider the number of people who touch your company’s research and development process. In addition to R&D chemists, your raw-material suppliers, customers and other vendors influence new product development. All of these groups are stakeholders in your business, and most of them should have input in the testing process before your product goes to market.
That means you can’t lock your chemists in the lab to test products in a silo. Without collaborative chemists heading your R&D efforts, you could develop products that your vendors can’t source to make products your customers can’t use – all while spending untold thousands of dollars on failed product testing.
How can you improve your testing process to ensure your products meet stakeholder expectations? The first step is to bring a business mindset to your R&D. Here are some considerations to address before testing begins.
Ask for your customer’s input. Your chemists have a detailed knowledge of testing, but they can’t perform the right tests without a thorough understanding of the customer’s needs.
Make money a conversation topic in every R&D discussion. If the raw materials for production are too expensive for your budget or your customer’s – or if the materials aren’t attainable – all the hours spent on R&D go out the door.
When it makes sense, include your R&D team in the vendor selection process. Vetting questions are typically reserved for management, but your chemists should also take a long and thorough look at who is sourcing your materials for paints.
Make sure your chemists understand that everyone needs to know how long a product will need to resist weather and corrosion, or whether it will have to withstand an underwater environment, such as on an oil rig. Raising simple concerns and points of agreement early in your product development process provides a foundation for more complicated R&D discussions later.
And don’t be afraid to ask the obvious question. The routine questions are essential for your chemists. Asking those questions is not wasting everybody’s time but making sure everybody has a fundamental understanding of the product’s requirements.
Now more than ever, it’s critical for your R&D staff to think like businesspeople, seeking and implementing input from all stakeholders in the product development process. And that comes down to communication.
Your sales staff, receivables department and customer service specialists are trained to understand the importance of listening and asking lots of questions. Make sure your chemists are trained and empowered to do the same, so when you get the testing process, you can be confident that your team is aligned on your product goals.