The human element in R&D

A conflict management system for projects focusing on technology

When R&D projects grind to a halt, technical issues usually aren’t the root of the problem. Project success hinges on “people factors” such as mutual trust and respect, equal share of power in the best interests of everyone involved as well as proper communication. This is especially relevant to projects which bring together multiple partners in industry, research and academia along with SMEs. A preventative conflict and contract management system can help build a solid and robust foundation on which relationships – both inter-personal and legal – can form. Set against the all-too-often high project costs and the risks of failure, setting up this kind of system often takes minimum effort and is worth the investment.

A range of studies has corroborated the impressive findings: many R&D projects in the technology sector fail not because of problems inherent in the technology, but “the human element”. In other words, so-called soft factors. And they’re often compounded by cryptic or erroneous contractual foundation. Despite this, a number of R&D projects still do not pay enough attention to the human element. Most project objectives are trained on complex, technical objectives peppered with ambitious timescales and lean budgets.

Technology and the exchange of data are made compatible at great expense, yet the degree of compatibility between people is often overlooked, pushed aside or neglected; even though a project succeeds or fails on the human element. But if project managers can harness this power, they can check off one major marker on the road to success.

Against this backdrop, the Steinbeis Consulting Center Business Mediation specially designed and developed an effective and integrated conflict and contract management system for projects focusing on technology. Its aim: properly factor relationships and the social setting into projects. It also places special emphasis on projects which involve small R&D-driven companies and major organizations, mainly in industry, research or academic establishments. The conflict management system helps project managers analyze possible areas of conflict within the project as well as; master intervention strategies to diffuse tensions, create communication techniques which still work when people are under stress, create trust – and ultimately integrate all of them into working processes. Another cornerstone is mediation – also preventative – a recognized, structured, and effective method to shaping communication and working through conflicts.

The Steinbeis Consulting Center Business Mediation team also called in solicitors specializing in technology to capture these soft factors in a robust contract management system, and in doing so laying thegroundwork for greater peace of mind, commitment and trust. Project partners now share one overarching objective: an equal split of the technical and financial risks facing them. This collaboration also set aside resources to explain and document questions regarding the partnership between small R&D driven companies and major organizations. The peculiarities of R&D contracts, change management and price adjustments were covered at length. The system also sets out ground rules for eventual advance deliveries, rights to research findings and how those findings are used. Rooted in each project’s plan, this conflict and contract management system is transformed into an integral part of R&D efforts.

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