Innovation management: To walk a fine line…

Large-scale IT projects require not only an efficient orchestration from the management perspective but also tremendous efforts in terms of technology implementation. The roles are distinct and –in theory at least–complement one another in various ways. Research Project managers and Software Developers collaborate closely to deliver a prototype (platform, service or software module) that will stand against tough competition. How does this collaboration work in day-to-day activities? How are tasks allocated and who decides the actions needed for a successful delivery? Can these two –not so different– worlds find the best way to thrive? Do these questions have a clear answer that applies to all cases?
Before trying to address all issues regarding collaboration in R&D departments, let’s define the roles and responsibilities of Research Project Managers and Software Developers with respect to a single project frame. When we hear “Project Management” we think overview. Research Project Managers are there to provide the project team with direction and processes (mostly not limited to scientific), to ensure that project outputs meet business requirements and are delivered on time and within budget. In short, they act as a bridge between business people (who are in touch with the market) and the project team. Software Developers on the other hand, are concerned with various facets of the technology development process, including the stages of design, programming, and testing. In brief, Software Developers are responsible for implementing the solution according to the requirements analysis and the architectural design, as well as generating the required technical documentation. After the definition of the Software Developer’s role, there is a rational question that naturally arises and surprisingly, it has nothing to do with the project’s cost. What is the need of a Research Project Manager since the Software Developers know exactly what they should do? The answer to this question is very simple. Software Developers are creative and productive but they definitely need direction. Most projects include many highly-specialized resources such as analysts, testers, graphic designers, and technical documentation writers. One of the key functions for the Research Project Manager is from the one hand to coordinate all these resources and ensure that the work is done properly, and on the other hand to facilitate the communication between these highly-focused members of the project team that most probably do not have the whole picture for the project.
If you think that the above mentioned duties can be also performed by a software developer then perhaps you should think twice. Just imagine the long periods of uninterrupted concentration required for a Software Developer to create the necessary code for a fully functional application or innovative service along with the time required for debugging and testing purposes and then the endless hours a Research Project Manager spend on conference calls and meetings to coordinate people, showcase the progress to various stakeholders, prevent problems and handle potential crises that may lead to the project’s termination. Not to mention the follow-up e-mails sent to every person involved in the project. None of these roles is easy and no one can act by its own
Research Project Managers and Software Developers come from two not so different worlds. Some of them had experiences from both of these worlds and as a consequence understand better the philosophy and the required actions. It is without doubt that these two diametrically opposed work styles cannot be reconciled but – for sure – they can complement each other and thrive within any company. Sometimes, it only takes a person to step into the other guy’s shoes to realize how useful he or she can be as part of the team. To this end, going back to my past experiences as both a low-level Software Developer and a Research Project Manager, I can only think that the fine line between these two worlds is mutual respect and acknowledgement of each other's work. 

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