Resolving competition between researchers and the development team

Research community’s success criteria

Thomas Edison said, “I never did anything by accident, not did any of my inventions come by accident, they came by work.”

Richard Witcomb examines model incorporating his Area Rule design approach
Richard Witcomb examines model incorporating his Area Rule design approach. (Source: U.S. Government)

Research involves the discovery of new knowledge. Successful research is the result of significant personal and organizational effort to take, as illustrated in the Technology Readiness Level scale, a new idea from the very early stages of defining new physical principles (TRL 1) to the successful demonstration of a prototype in a representative operational environment (TRL 6).

Personal and organizational motivations change throughout this process. Initially, the motivation may be the natural curiosity of the scientist to discover new knowledge. However, as research into a new invention or discovered new physical principle continues, both the scientists directly involved and their research organizations invest time, financial resources, and prestige into the effort to understand and mature the technology. To justify these investments and achieve recognition for their efforts, the research community, quite understandably, usually becomes a forceful advocate for the use of the new technology. When this happens, their motivation or success criteria focuses on having the new technology selected for incorporation into new products as soon as possible. Otherwise, as the saying goes, the technology will sit on the shelf.

Technology advocates, understandably, have become very adept as using the political process to have their new technologies adopted through legislation or policy. When this happens, the product development decision process becomes biased towards the technology community because they have inserted themselves into the system design decision process. Essentially, they will have forced the new product’s design to adapt to their technology at the expense of, potentially, greater cost, schedule delay, and higher program development risk than is needed to achieve the product’s cost and performance goals. The technology advocates will claim success in providing a “critical” technology and then leave the developers with the task of making something work that is still immature or an inappropriate choice to use. If the program fails because of unacceptable delays or cost increases, the blame will usually fall on the developers because the behind-the-scenes political maneuvering to “adopt” the technology is usually not apparent to the public or Congress.