Keep calm and research on

facing-the-COVID-19-pandemic-Konica-Minolta-Global-RD

Keep calm and research on

HOW TO KEEP UP WITH R&D WHILE FACING A PANDEMIC

The word is out. Unfortunately, we’ve hit a point where the Coronavirus pandemic is affecting our daily lives across all personal and professional touchpoints. But it’s 2020, and we have technology at our fingertips to provide new opportunities. Here’s the latest on how our Research and Development (R&D) departments are making the most of the situation.

WHO’S THE FIRST SCIENTIST YOU THINK OF?

Maybe it’s Einstein, Darwin, Tesla or Marie Curie – they’re pretty big names and arguably some of the greatest scientists of all time. However, I’m sure someone’s first thoughts went to fictional scientists such as Back to the Future’s Doc Emmett Brown, Breaking Bad’s high school chemistry teacher Walter White, and of course The Big Bang Theory’s neurotic theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper.

What do they have in common? They’re all crazy inventors with reduced social capabilities and a focus only on laboratory work. Well sorry to break the illusion, but these traits aren’t common to all people working in R&D. Let me introduce you to the Konica Minolta R&D group, to understand who we are and how Coronavirus is affecting the work of a research team.

HOW DO YOU TRANSFORM R&D INTO BUSINESS?

Konica Minolta’s Global R&D is a group of passionate researchers, technical leaders, and experienced business strategists that aim to understand customers’ needs to offer them solutions that are based on technological excellence.

We’re a connected and adaptable community, operating across European and US research laboratories and development groups that work closely with business units to form strategic alliances.

By transforming thought leadership into valuable outputs, we want to translate the complexity of IT solutions into systems that provide greater efficiency, creativity, wider context understanding and improved decision support for teams and individuals.

From customers’ understanding, through concept design, research, agile development and testing, we drive an iterative process to create real values for the business arriving at the first steps of pre-productization.

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HOW HAS CORONAVIRUS AFFECTED OUR RESEARCH?

Honestly, it has affected our work only to some extent. As a worldwide distributed team, we’ve always been ready to work wherever is needed, and use a number of different tools to stay connected:

  • To easily share documents and key project information, we use a project management to keep everyone aligned with daily tasks, goals and overall results.
  • We use the software development and collaboration tools to keep working agile, creating user stories and issues, planning sprints and distributing tasks among software teams. Even if everyone is working from home, working agile enables software developers to see the project from a unique point of view, and to keep prioritising and discussing with a unified voice.
  • Being a Scrum team requires a lot of communication and close collaboration among team members, on a daily basis. For this reason, we heavily rely on instant messaging, and audio and video calls. And, as we’re currently forced to work remotely indefinitely, we’re also evaluating other cloud based services that enhance online collaboration and that allow co-editing of documents, diagrams and boards.

But it’s not just about the work aspect – there’s more to the workplace than your tasks and activities. For example, our researchers are missing their morning coffee chats in the laboratories, so we’ve increased internal communication to keep everyone connected and informed.

With these newsletters, everyone has the right information about safe behaviours when working or when managing daily family life. And for those who don’t know what to do with their extra spare time from not commuting, a set of dedicated trainings have been created to allow our team members the opportunity to further develop their skills and knowledge.

ANY OTHER SIDE EFFECT?

Yes – as we all know, after China, South Korea and Iran, Coronavirus has greatly affected Italy, where many of our R&D colleagues are based. However being in the thick of it has allowed one of our colleagues from the Rome laboratory, Giorgio Sestili, to become an influential source of data about Covid-19 for Italian and European newspapers.

Building upon his experience as scientific communicator, he created a Facebook page Coronavirus – Data and Scientific Analysis where he and some of his fellows from La Sapienza University are sharing simple and comprehensible analysis of the data available from official sources. The page reached one million views in ten days, demonstrating that there is always need for clear and trustful sources of information.

WHAT’S THE SECRET OF R&D ORGANIZATIONS TO SAFELY NAVIGATE THROUGH FORCED ISOLATION?

Just as we are experiencing, many other R&D teams around the world are overcoming this difficult period with the support of technology: almost all their daily working activities are maintained with similar efforts, and research projects and software developments are moving forward almost as usual. What’s their secret?

For sure, their ability to use collaboration tools and technological services is one of their advantages. However, I believe that their most important asset relies in the scientific method. The well-established practices of questioning previously held truths and searching for new answers, the approach based on peer review and open exchange of data and experiments is key to enable knowledge to advance even when people are isolated. That’s what happened since the Scientific Revolution of the 16th century.

In other words, R&D teams are more ready to have conversations even in digital shape, because, as highlighted by Seth Godin’s manifesto:

“The digital world enables a new kind of conversation, one that scales, one that cannot possibly be replicated in the real world.”

It is only with this kind of conversation that you listen to others, so you’re able to start building your knowledge from their data and thoughts. That is another demonstration of how R&D departments are crucial for innovative companies to achieve future growth and maintain relevance in their chosen market.