Outsourcing best practices: How to outsource R&D projects
Smart organizations launch Research and Development (R&D) projects to drive innovation into their product line to gain a competitive advantage.
Still, many companies consider R&D as a somewhat uncertain initiative that may not guarantee any measurable returns and poses some potentially serious management challenges.
However, investing in R&D is nowadays considered a clever move. Organizations that manage to commercialize new technologies successfully attain a higher market share, develop product innovations, and gain a significant competitive edge.
What is R&D?
The goal of R&D is obtaining cutting-edge knowledge that applies to business needs and may result in the development of new products, systems, procedures, or services that boost an organization's bottom line.
Large organizations usually have enough resources to set up their innovation labs, they can afford to hire top talent in the field, and run innovation projects that may carry significant risk. But R&D projects take a lot of time and their results are uncertain. That’s why enterprises often resort to purchasing patents or companies that have developed the knowledge they seek.
However, just like small and mid-sized companies, enterprises can take advantage of R&D by partnering with software development companies that specialize in delivering R&D projects.
Mid-sized companies may not want to spend their resources on setting up labs and infrastructure for R&D, but they can easily afford hiring someone who already has everything required for carrying out R&D work in the tech industry.
In this article, I show why partial or full R&D outsourcing is a good idea and what to expect from an IT outsourcing partner.
Key benefits of outsourcing R&D
Outsourcing IT R&D work means contracting the research project out to a software development company that specializes in cutting-edge technologies. Such firms have experienced engineers on board who work with the most innovative tools and know how to make outsourcing relationships successful.
By delegating R&D tasks to a software development company businesses get to enjoy these benefits:
- Access to top experts – partnering with a team of skilled engineers means that organizations don't have to spend any resources on sourcing, attracting, and hiring talented employees. And if you're running a business, you know how challenging, time-consuming and expensive that can be. Instead of going through all the hassle of building an R&D team, it’s often better to offload this burden to a software development company.
- Cost efficiency – just like with any outsourcing initiative, businesses that decide to delegate R&D work avoid overhead costs like the administrative and facility expenses or simply purchasing and maintaining equipment (if necessary).
- Accelerated time-to-market – outsourced R&D teams get to work right away, helping businesses to introduce improvements or new products within much shorter time-frames.
- Interdisciplinary expertise - software development companies such as Sunscrapers, serve multiple industries and engage in a large variety of projects. They gain exposure to a very different data, project types, and use cases. That allows them to gain a broader perspective on driving innovation that isn’t sector-specific.
- Flexibility - outsourcing an entire R&D process or even just a portion of it to another company comes with the benefit of higher flexibility. For example, we build tailored development teams with matching skills for our clients’ projects or lease a single software engineer or a data scientist for a short-term project. The good thing about outsourcing is that it can take on many different forms and granularity to address the changing requirements of R&D projects.
R&D outsourcing – here's how we do it
At Sunscrapers, the approach to R&D projects focuses on technology development, product development, and the connection between the two processes. Understanding how technological innovation fuels the design of new products is critical for us.
This is how we ensure that R&D projects are goal-oriented and profitable:
Build - Measure - Learn
R&D projects often don’t have a well-defined scope and a clear output. We realize that the non-specificity of R&D projects makes them more challenging.
That’s why we follow the Build - Measure - Learn model. Working in short sprints and producing incremental iterations we continuously monitor the results of our work, evaluate the project’s direction, and analyze the available data.
After only a few sprints, we can show our clients that their project is moving forward. Every iteration is followed by a demo where we discuss the project deliverables and reflect on our process.
Managing R&D projects comes with several challenges - from strategic, through operational, to methodological. In fact, project management can make or break an R&D project.
Our first step is to define metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that will be used to ensure our project is going in the right direction. We also identify potential risks we need to prepare for to minimize their impact on the project. Finally, we evaluate the main objectives and define success criteria. That helps to maintain the project direction at a strategic level, as well as allows us to plan tasks for individual sprints.
Next, we establish the technological stack needed for the project and identify any potential limitations (for example, restrictions imposed by a specific database, etc.). We develop a higher-level project roadmap that includes the Critical Path and build the project team on top of that.
We have a stress-tested process for managing R&D projects and our teams have the flexibility to follow different methodologies required by our clients.
We begin R&D projects with a creative phase that aims to understand the project and business requirements, objectives, and already existing tools. We research business values of the project that need to be delivered. For example, is it about the automation of existing processes or creating a new one from scratch?
An R&D project is deeply embedded in an organization’s business context. After all, companies engage in innovation research to develop new products and improve the existing ones. R&D projects need set objectives, budget, timescale, and milestone targets.
To help our clients innovate, we deliver the following services:
We bring in a fresh perspective, ask questions to understand the client's processes, products and services, and use our technology expertise to suggest improvements. Our audits are in-depth and help in setting the direction for future research.
Proof of Concept (PoC)
We help organizations crystalize an idea or concept and review its feasibility. To do that, our teams carry out demonstrations that verify the practical potential of new ideas and help companies develop a more directed research process.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
Once we make sure that the new product idea or process works, our team of engineers steps in to build an MVP. Organizations then use it to validate their ideas further with their target audiences.
Let’s innovate your product together.
Are you looking for a team of software engineers experienced in delivering R&D projects? Get in touch with us; we have the skill sets you need.
Offshore software development: Our recipe for success in New York City
We always have a blast when working with clients from New York City. They’re driven, inspired, and full of incredibly smart ideas. If you’re wondering how a company located in Central Europe can launch a smooth collaboration with a client based on the East Coast, here’s the answer: it’s all about the process, communication, and mindset.
Here’s our recipe for success when it comes to offshore collaborations with clients from the Big Apple.
1. Battle-tested process
Over the years, we’ve developed a bullet-proof development process that allows us to collaborate with offshore partners without any friction.
Note: We always adjust our process and collaboration model to the current stage of the product’s life cycle.
To start, we carry out backlog grooming before planning the new sprint. It helps us gain a better understanding of the client’s priorities and reiterating the most important points we should focus on during the next sprint.
We always make sure to double check the scope for a given sprint to avoid misunderstandings.
Once we finish a sprint, we hold a video call with the client to talk about our accomplishments and click through our applications to demonstrate the effects of our work. We also discuss the conclusions of retrospectives to see what went well and what could’ve gone better. That helps us to optimize the work and adjust our process where necessary.
Naturally, there’s nothing more exciting than holding face-to-face meetings with our clients, where we can catch up and brainstorm new ideas for the strategic development of our client’s products.
During our last visit to NYC, we met up with our collaborators from 15five and had a great time exploring some new ways to grow our partnership.
Transparent communication is the key to outsourcing software development successfully.
That sounds nice, but how do you actually make it happen?
It all starts with the development team.
We’ve introduced transparent and specific rules for talking about problems within our teams. It works like an internal self-learning ecosystem that promotes knowledge sharing.
Here are a couple of points from our communication rulebook:
- Never hesitate to ask questions.
- Always communicate a problem to your team leader.
- Assume a product-oriented approach and don’t be afraid to explore it.
- Constant learning is our king - optimize your work a little with every sprint.
- Share your knowledge with others to help the entire team grow.
- Divide responsibilities clearly (and let developers code in peace!).
But how does all of that translate into offshore application development with New York-based companies?
We just apply the same rules and make sure our clients are aware of them. They like our rulebook because they’re used to documenting things like the company culture.
We always make sure to arrange regular online meetings of the entire team to keep everyone connected and up-to-date with the project’s progress.
Transparency and honesty are essential in such cooperation, and we always try to go the extra mile to make communication more comfortable for everyone. We’re ready to schedule evening calls to ensure that our clients on the East Coast easily accommodate communication into their busy schedules.
The final ingredient in our recipe for success is the right mindset.
It would be an understatement to say that New Yorkers are skilled business drivers.
They have a vision, and they’re not afraid to realize it. We’re always impressed by the energy and dedication of startup founders and team leaders whenever we visit New York.
But passion isn’t enough to launch and scale a business. That’s why NYC entrepreneurs need top engineering talent on board to make their ideas a reality efficiently and sustainably.
Just any software development company isn’t going to do the trick. It takes a certain mindset to team up with such driven people.
Polish developers are listed in the top three of the most skilled programmers in the world. They have an excellent education background but also a thirst for knowledge. They’re active in developer communities and value knowledge-sharing above everything else.
We organize and sponsor events that bring people like that together. We also support our team members in sharing their knowledge to help our teams grow and develop.
Sunscrapers & New York software development
Collaborating with companies from New York is an enriching experience as we get to become part of projects that bring real value to people.
We couldn’t be prouder to support ideas that may change the world as we know it.
Are you looking for a tech partner experienced in collaborating with companies in New York? Get in touch with us and let us support your vision.
The NYC tech scene: an insider’s guide
New York City is often scored one of the least likely cities for HQ2. The Big Apple's complicated infrastructure, high tax burden, and considerable costs of living, that doesn’t come as a surprise.
And yet, some of the largest players on the tech scene are now deepening their ties with New York.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Google is on their way to closing a deal on a 1.3 million-square-foot office in Manhattan that would allow the giant to locate over 12 thousand new employees. That’s almost double if we look at Google’s current staffing in New York.
But that’s not everything.
Amazon is also expected to announce the locations of two new headquarters. And guess what? New York is one of them, together with northern Virginia. Before the end of 2018, Amazon may employ as many as 25,000 employees at each of these locations.
What makes these giants - as well as countless other technology companies - choose New York?
Our recent trip to the Big Apple opened our eyes to the city’s potential. Here are 3 factors that make NYC such an attractive tech scene to build a business or launch a startup.
New York offers a rich supporting ecosystem to founders and companies on the path to innovation.
Let’s start with VCs. New York is full of VCs, angel investors, and investment companies on the lookout for the next unicorn. The Midas list is an excellent point of reference for anyone who wants to learn more about the VC investors based in New York City.
What about incubators and accelerators? One look at NYC Digital’s New York incubator list is enough to see that the city provides plenty of opportunities for those looking to test their business idea on the market.
Here are the top 3 New York-based accelerators:
Grand Central Tech - a New York-based startup accelerator that specializes in seed-stage and non-equity assistance investments.
Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator - a technology accelerator and early-stage venture capital fund.
Techstars - the Techstars Worldwide Entrepreneur Network connects startups with other entrepreneurs, experts, investors, community leaders, and corporate partners to accelerate their growth.
Want to know more about New York’s accelerator programs? The Seed Accelerator Rankings Project created a handy infographic of the best American startup accelerators.
Source: Seed Rankings.
New York is overflowing with inspiring events and conferences that foster knowledge sharing and help to connect people (and ideas!). To get an overview of New York’s tech scene events, check out this list prepared by Built in NYC and this 2018 tech event and conference guide from Bizzabo.
Co-working spaces can quickly become innovation hubs. And New York is just full of them - not to mention that a leader in the field, WeWork, hails from the Big Apple as well. Here’s an updated map of all the best co-working spaces in New York:
Finally, New York is home to two exciting innovation labs:
- IPG Media Lab - a team of engineers, marketers, and other creative folks who work with agencies and deliver content to publishers. Media is the primary domain of this innovation lab.
- Eastern Labs - this finance-oriented team of engineers is all about testing out new ideas and experimenting. They’re just amazing at building MVPs quickly, testing them and deploying them so that others could benefit from them.
Google and Amazon come to New York not because of the sweat deals the city’s authorities have put together to convince them, but rather because New York offers something that’s not easily found: talent.
Tech giants are constantly fighting for top talent and establishing headquarters in a city that offers a deep and diverse talent pool is a key advantage. There are plenty of talented engineers to be found roaming the streets of the Big Apple and New York has always figured as a secondary tech hub to San Francisco. If the tech giants continue to invest in the city and slowly move out of the Silicon Valley, that gap may become smaller and smaller.
Needless to say, a city which is located only 6 hours away from Europe offers a plethora of nearshoring opportunities. NYC-based companies looking for cost-effective talent can employ expert team from Central European countries like Poland to build products or expand their teams. Our past and ongoing collaborations with clients from New York testify to that.
NYC - a future-bound tech scene
New York is on its way to becoming even stronger on the global tech scene, and technical expertise is one of the most sought-after competencies - also if it doesn’t come directly from the city.
Our recent trip to New York only strengthened our belief that the incredible speed, diversity, and innovation of this city make it a prime candidate for a top global tech hub.
How company culture impacts outsourcing partnerships – and what you can do about itA collaboration between two companies works just like any other relationship. People who share a worldview understand one another easily. Those who hold different values have a harder time doing so. That's why companies that share values and have similar cultures have better chances of succeeding in their collaboration. Organizations that have entirely different cultures and share few values will find it hard to collaborate. When considering the problem of cross-culture partnership, it pays to look at the layers that build a culture. First, there is the culture of the region or country where the company is located. Then there's the company culture the particular organization has built for itself over the years. Finally, there's also the culture and values shared by the company's employees. I believe that company culture is one of the critical elements in organizations. It derives from the company mission, vision, and values. It's the company culture that regulates how we communicate, make decisions, manage errors, and drive innovation. Your company's culture is a central point of reference that synchronizes the team and directs your hiring process. However, every company culture is embedded within a broader type of culture; the regional or national culture.
And cross-cultural business can be trickyConsider this: In Western societies, we tend to think about time as linear. Every minute we spend on not making a decision or not performing an action is lost to us. The past doesn't matter as much as the current deals and the possibilities they create for the future. That's how we approach decision-making and expect everyone else to do the same. And that's also where we clash with people coming from cultures that treat time differently. Western executives often expect Asian managers to make quick business decisions or consider a current deal on its present value. But many Asian cultures perceive time as cyclical. The past is important to them, and they tend to think long term. They don't see time as racing away but coming around again in a circle where similar opportunities will present themselves again to people who are then wiser by days, months, or years. As you can imagine, that can create a lot of cross-cultural friction between companies trying to collaborate with one another. They perceive time differently, and that changes their expectations in the decision-making process. On the other hand, the company culture is always developed under the pressure of people who create the company. It's impossible to build a company where 100% of its employees are fully synchronized with the culture. Negotiating the company culture is an ongoing process, and smart managers can pinpoint the risks unsynchronized employees may present to the company culture. Take this broader context into account when considering to launch an outsourcing partnership.
Culture synchronization in practiceAn outsourcing relationship is a situation in which two different companies come together to collaborate. In its essence, it's a meeting of groups of people who were shaped by different cultures and hold different values. And now they have to synchronize, find common ground, and negotiate their differences to develop an effective collaboration process. At Sunscrapers, we've been collaborating with clients from all over the world, and our experience taught us that these questions are vital for synchronizing right at the beginning of a collaboration.
CommunicationEstablish communication standards First, it's smart to outline the standards regarding the amount and regularity of communication between two companies. In general, we should try not to get in each other's way and pay attention to how much we communicate depending on the gravity or urgency of a situation. However, some companies are used to more meetings and interactions – and a smart outsourcing partner will cater to that need. Agree on terms of collaboration Another question to consider here is how the partner perceives himself as part of the process and participant in a communication routine. It's good to figure out to what extent a client prefers to leave the outsourcing party to work on its own and when they want to become part of the process. For example, one of our clients would always participate in our retrospective sessions but only listening to our team and never adding any comments. We interpreted the lack of comments as approval – whereas in reality, it was a passive role the client needed to be part of the process. Proactive vs. passive outsourcing When teaming up with a company, consider the kind of outputs expected by the client. Does the client expect their outsourcing partner to be proactive and autonomic in supporting their activities? Or maybe they're merely looking for someone to complete the requested tasks without any input or reflection? Level of formality Consider the level of formality as well. While in some companies people tend to address one another formally, in others informal communication is standard. Smart outsourcing partners pay attention to that and adjust their communication style to match their client's standards. Data transparency Two companies collaborating on a project should also make critical decisions about data transparency. They need to be on the same page about what type of information is public and what type needs to be confidential. Common definitions Finally, it's a good idea to talk about definitions of concepts that are critical to a project's completion. For example, a high-priority task or a done task can mean different things to companies that collaborate with one another, depending on their processes.
Taking the initiative and making decisionsSynchronize the decision-making process When collaborating with another company, learn what their organizational structure looks like and what kind of decision-making process they have in place. That way, you'll know whom to contact in case of questions or recommendations – and how. Employee initiatives – welcome or not? Another thing worth your attention is how your partner perceives the ideas and initiatives coming from team members. Perhaps everything needs to be organized at from the beginning, and there's low tolerance for modification? Some company cultures encourage employees to participate actively, but only in a specific time and place (like planned meetings). Talking about mistakes Finally, pay attention to what is the company's approach to communication about mistakes or errors. You need to know whether it's good to talk about them openly or not. Some companies see public conversations about errors as potentially hurtful to people involved in the project and discourage them.
Key takeawayAt the end of the day, a good outsourcing partnership means that two companies are basically playing to win together. It's a good idea to be particularly considerate at the beginning of a partnership to allow greater synchronization and develop a collective process that satisfies both parties. It's much better to be careful rather than risk hurting someone unintentionally. When building Sunscrapers, we were inspired by the culture of American and British tech companies – that's how we developed the values that direct our operation: technical excellence, integrity, ambition, hard work, and modesty. Outsourcing is never a piece of cake. But I hope you can see now why collaborating with a company that shares essential elements of your culture is just so much easier.
7 rules for great time management you should knowWe all dream that we had more time to do things love. But today it's easier than ever to become overwhelmed with incoming notifications and emails, or planned tasks and meetings. All these small things pile up, leaving us feeling stressed and incapable being creative.
However, there are several strategies and tools you can use to take back the control over your time.Time management starts with you thinking about your personal and professional life regarding time dedicated to different tasks. Once you know that, you will be able to manage your time efficiently. Here are 7 essential time management rules to help you take full advantage of your time and get into the mindset of an efficient time manager.
1. Track itThe first step you need to take to boost your time management skills is to understand your current habits. All it takes is measuring and tracking the time you spend on different tasks. For example, you can carry around a notepad and jot down what you're up to every 15 minutes or so. [caption id="attachment_1173" align="aligncenter" width="1014"] Harvest is a web-based time tracking tool we use at Sunscrapers[/caption]
Consider using time tracking apps like Toggl, Harvest, or Timely to get an in-depth view of your activity on the web and beyond.After a week of tracking, you will have a resource that will help you understand where you're potentially wasting your time. Analyze your time log and check where you could be more productive and where you are already killing it.
2. Set the right goalsNow that you understand your time management habits better, you can outline the bigger picture (for example, a project at work) by setting out goals. The trick is to establish the right goals for yourself – they will provide you with a sense of direction and ensure that you take full advantage of your time. A well-formulated goal is:
- Specific – regarding what you would like to achieve
- Measurable – your goal needs to have a time measure
- Achievable – with the resources available to you right now
- Realistic – make sure that your time frame allows for accomplishing that goal
- Timed – your goal needs to be breakable into smaller, short-term objectives that lead you to accomplish medium and long-term goals.