Take the R&D Offensive during the downturn in 4 Easy Steps.
Quick Bio Note: I’m an Engineering leader. I really know this R&D stuff. In my career, my teams developed 75 new implant/instrument systems inside six different orthopedic device companies (joints, spine, trauma, extremities, sports med, and bio).
During the COVID-19 economic downturn, all Orthopedic companies are scrambling to figure out how to best use their assets – Manufacturing, Product Inventory, Sales Force, Marketing, and shared services (IT, HR, Accounting, Customer Service, etc)
An important asset up for discussion is R&D.
The natural tendency during challenging times is to cut R&D. This is defensive thinking. This is how most of the public ortho companies think. For instance, Zimmer-Biomet just froze most R&D projects except for a few (Robot, Knee, F/A). Most ZB engineers are sitting at home updating files now. Electronic paperwork work. This is crazy. This is pure defense.
Instead I suggest that you employ offensive thinking. During C19, you are not going to be launching new product for a while. You are not going to be attending orthopedic trade shows for a while. Use this time to jump ahead of your competition in innovation. Take some chances. Nothing to lose.
How to take an offensive R&D play in 4 simple steps.
STEP 1: Audit (max time allowed – 1 day)
Do an audit of your R&D spend. HINT: I bet you that you are spending more money on product maintenance than on new product development, and you don’t even know it.
STEP 2: Reallocate Project Resources (max time allowed – 3 days)
Shift project budgets from defensive R&D spend (defense) to true high-risk innovation (offense). Determine how many Engineers you can free up and determine the amount of R&D expense money you can free up. NOTE: your total R&D expenses should not increase if you do this correctly.
STEP 3: Refocus on New Projects (max time allowed – 5 days)
This is the fun part. Depending how big your R&D team is, pick one, two or three crazy new product ideas to pursue. Have your Engineers do video calls with Marketing, Sales and Surgeons. Read – If you want a BIG breakthrough… mingle different technologies. New product ideas are abundant. Today, there are great new product ideas EVERYWHERE. More surgeons have new product ideas for products than ever in the history of orthopedics.
Step 4: Start (max time allowed – 1 day)
You have two basic choices once you have reallocated resources and chosen new projects. You can use your newly freed up Engineers in-house, or use your freed up R&D expenses out-of-house.
Choice A: Stay In-house.
Repurpose specific Engineers on your team to these skunk works projects. Don’t pick your Engineering leader types. Don’t pick your organized Engineers who stay in their box and never make mistakes. Pick the creative types, the quirky ones, the ones don’t who conform. These Engineers are your dynamite.
Choice B: Go Outside.
If you don’t want to distract your existing R&D team (I understand), then outsource. This is even cleaner. For less than a salaried Engineer, you can test new product ideas quickly. You can outsource a skunk works product for very little money to reach design concepts or even working prototypes. I call them Outside Orthopedic Developers, or OPDs.
These nimble little OPDs provide turnkey product development for a fee. OPDs are seasoned entrepreneurs who have learned their trade at the best orthopedic companies. Being small is not a problem, it’s an advantage. The OPDs have access to all the resources that the Big Orthos have (the best engineers, CAD, 3D printing, test equipment, regulatory processes, etc.). The OPDs don’t have any of the red tape that burdens the Big Orthos (slow decision making, politics, layers, compliance oversight, IP committees, regulatory committees). Read the full list of OPDs here.