TOPICS: Innovation | CTO Services

SEED Advisory - R&D Agility

R&D Agility

The world is becoming more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (or VUCA, to use the acronym), presenting us with a wide range of social, political and ethical dilemmas. In R&D, the tension between the demand for disruptive innovations that change a company’s fortunes overnight and the long-term investment necessary to enable such innovations has never been greater. We help R&D organisations to explore the tension between being able to adapt your business to rapidly changing circumstances and being able to make the resultant new products and services easily available on a global scale.


The challenge to the R&D function is that the rate of growth in R&D spending is outstripping the rate of growth of added value, and in many cases, the added value of products and services is constantly eroding. The solution to this challenge is to make R&D more agile, that is more ready to move quickly, with a resourceful and adaptable approach. 


The trend for agility is partly driven by the uptake of agile methods in the development of web-based services, apps and IT infrastructure. However, agile methods may not work as well in other industries. Updating an app with a new feature is easy: write and test the feature, submit it to an app store and within minutes of approval it is available for download worldwide. On the other hand, if you have invented a new form of steel that makes railway lines more durable, introducing it quickly is much more difficult. 

Measuring Agility

The agility of R&D organisations should be measured by their adaptability and scalability. One can characterises businesses that have a lot of adaptability but low scalability as ‘fast and fragile’. If they have low adaptability and low scalability, they are ‘rigid and stable’. If they have low adaptability but high scalability, they are probably product companies. And if a business has high adaptability and high scalability, it is ‘awesome’.


SEED Advisory has taken a qualitative approach to understanding the adaptability of R&D operations. We argue that the factors that reduce adaptability include:

  • Building a large research infrastructure
  • Owning large production facilities
  • Having a tight research community
  • Relying on specialised knowledge
  • Reluctance to give knowledge up to change
  • An empirical product design approach

We have also qualified the factors that increase adaptability. They include having:

  • Virtually no R&D infrastructure
  • An open academic and value-chain network
  • Strong systems engineering capabilities
  • Flexible production assets
  • Strong modelling capabilities

Adaptability VS Scalability

There are common levels of adaptability in each industry sector, and wide variation among sectors: for example, the chemicals sector is much less adaptable than the software sector. The more adaptable sectors tend to use the following techniques:

  • Technology scouting
  • Corporate venture capital
  • Open campuses, to share the cost of infrastructure and so decrease capital expenditure
  • Asset-lite production strategies
  • Strong cooperation along the value chain
  • Strong computing and modelling skills

To be more scalable:

  • Do public/private partnerships
  • Explore open innovation and crowdsourcing
  • Have a wider geographic spread
  • Develop your value chain cooperation

R&D Hackathon

SEED Advisory organises 2 days R&D Hackatons for your organisation to reinvent the traditional model of industrial R&D to enable much greater flexibility and agility – without undermining the work necessary to sustain and develop the existing business. Hackathons are part of tech culture. They are a playground for exploring possibilities.


The premise of a hackathon is to bring together designers, engineers, product managers, R&D specialists and anyone else interested in product development for a fixed period of time (typically 24 to 48 hours) and have them use design and technology creatively to “hack” a new idea or a solution to a customer problem. With hackathons, you can take the market insights you have identified, translate them into themes and problem topics, and then open it up for ideation followed by prototype development.