Pure R&D Projects


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    So tomorrow (or is that 'later today') I have a project kickoff for what is basically pure product R&D. The project came up because I was talking about something I need to build in my hobby time because all the commercial solutions are astronomically expensive and frankly, not that good. One of the product guys heard it, asked some questions, did some research,  came to the same conclusions about the existing commercial solutions sucking major wang, pitched it to his bosses, and here we are. On my desk at work right now, I have a box of off-the-shelf hardware (upon which the technical basis of our proposed product lies), and instructions to "play with the idea, see if there's anything truly unique and new that we can do with it, and come back in 2 months with a crude demo for a final go/no-go"

    Project staff is crazy light - it's me full-time, one other developer 4 days a week, an embedded guy as-needed (he's on no other active projects, just burning cycles on maintaining and expanding other products), a maximum 8-hours-a-week of a solder monkey, and 40 hours total of the staff PR video goon (who will be necessary for said crude demo, since this isn't the kind of product you can demonstrate in a conference room).

    Materials budget, not counting the hardware that's already on my desk (about $500), is $10k. Delivering on-budget should be a cakewalk - I can foresee spending MAYBE $1500.

     

    Thing is, this product is outside our core business area. It's not worlds apart or anything (most of the underlying tech is stuff we already use in other products), but if it works out, it's an expansion into a totally different market. It's not like a residential construction firm one day deciding they want to build submarines instead of houses - but it is like a residential construction firm deciding they want to do commercial landscaping.

    It seems strange to me that such a project should be approached on the basis of some conversation and then handed to the FNG to head (of course, this IS something I'm quite passionate about, and I am the most qualified person here on this particular market). Is this one of those 'small business culture' things, or is this a 'my bosses are fucking crazy' thing? And really, who hands a project to a couple of software developers and says "Here, go find something interesting to do with it!"



  •  Don't know if you're in Canada or not, but this might be a "[url="http://en.wikipedia.org/sred/"]SR&ED[/url]" thing. (Or whatever weird country you live in might have copied us after we liberate the idea from their backwards government):

    @wikipedia who else? said:

    The Scientific Research and Experimental Development Tax Incentive Program (often referred to as simply SR&ED or SRED, pronounced "shred") provides tax incentives (in the form of tax credits and/or refund) to Canadian businesses to support applied research and experimental development conducted in Canada.

    ...

    SR&ED expenditures (already deducted against revenue) may qualify for investment tax credits (i.e., a reduction in income taxes
    payable), cash refunds, or both. Qualifying expenditures may include
    wages, materials, machinery, equipment, travel and training expenses,
    property taxes, utility expenses some overhead, and SR&ED contracts
    from the following activities:[2]

    • Experimental development
    • Applied research
    • Basic research
    • Support work


    So they'll get either a tax credit or cash back for the project and maybe a new product out of it.


  • I'd say it's a small business being flexible thing.  Likely if you weren't there, they wouldn't have passionate enough that they could see it actually happening.

    Although small companies don't usually have money to burn like this.



  • I wouldn't question such an opportunity; I actually enjoy that kind of work.  Sadly, most of the time other work takes precedence because it actually brings in the revenue to pay for such research.



  • Sounds like a great opportunity to have fun and possibly make a name for yourself.  Even if the project doesn't pan out, you can showcase your project management and presentation skills.  I used to work for a small company that would allow for this kind of thing if it seemed worthwhile.  Many small companies survive by occupying niche markets, and this sounds like you may have identified a new niche.



  • @Weng said:


    Materials budget, not counting the hardware that's already on my desk (about $500), is $10k. Delivering on-budget should be a cakewalk - I can foresee spending MAYBE $1500.

    ...

    It seems strange to me that such a project should be approached on the basis of some conversation and then handed to the FNG to head (of course, this IS something I'm quite passionate about, and I am the most qualified person here on this particular market). Is this one of those 'small business culture' things, or is this a 'my bosses are fucking crazy' thing? And really, who hands a project to a couple of software developers and says "Here, go find something interesting to do with it!"

    As with most things, even the $10K will be dwarfed by labor costs. It's not necessarily small business, but those tend to have the sort of organizational structure where this would happen. Basically, you're not too far (organizationally) from the actual decision maker. Obviously, it also requires some amount of success from a profit and especially cash flow perspective.

    There's also the timing aspect to consider. If they don't currently have many ideas for expanding business, you're more likely to get this sort of thing approved.

    Also, a smaller company without some sort of dedicated R&D organization is probably going to be more reliant on organic ideas and growth, which also biases towards small company.



  • I'll echo what the others here have said. Although hopefully they aren't sending you on some wild goose chase to keep you off other projects. I've known companies who simply don't like people and their way to "get them out of their hair" is to give them odd jobs to divert them from doing actual work. $10k is probably significantly less than whatever unemployment they'd have to take a hit on if they simply laid you off.

    But, sorry, that's just my pessimistic side. Chances are they are honestly looking to diversify and attain a new synergetic paradigm that will let them expand their market moving forward. At least that's how they worded it to sell the idea to the CEO.



  • Sounds like a great chance. Don't worry, have fun. It's not uncommon for a small business to quickly change direction when new business ideas come up.



  • @Weng said:

    Project staff is crazy light - it's me full-time, one other developer 4 days a week, an embedded guy as-needed (he's on no other active projects, just burning cycles on maintaining and expanding other products), a maximum 8-hours-a-week of a solder monkey, and 40 hours total of the staff PR video goon (who will be necessary for said crude demo, since this isn't the kind of product you can demonstrate in a conference room).

    Materials budget, not counting the hardware that's already on my desk (about $500), is $10k. Delivering on-budget should be a cakewalk - I can foresee spending MAYBE $1500.

    I love when people quote probably at least $250k or more in labor costs, then get persnickety about limiting you to $10k of equipment costs.

    Anyway, what you're describing is pretty normal, except most businesses wouldn't put you on it full-time unless they were already turning it into a product. Frankly, I think that's the wrong approach-- better would be to get 3 "yous" and put them all on 1/3rd time with weekly status. That way you get feedback, can brainstorm ideas, the project isn't crippled when you go on vacation, and there's other people to keep you on-task and on-schedule.

    So I think your bosses are going about it the wrong way, but they're doing something pretty normal.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    Anyway, what you're describing is pretty normal, except most businesses wouldn't put you on it full-time unless they were already turning it into a product. Frankly, I think that's the wrong approach-- better would be to get 3 "yous" and put them all on 1/3rd time with weekly status. That way you get feedback, can brainstorm ideas, the project isn't crippled when you go on vacation, and there's other people to keep you on-task and on-schedule.

    So I think your bosses are going about it the wrong way, but they're doing something pretty normal.

    At the small company where I used to work, if you put three engineers on a project,  that would have been half the department including some pure hardware guys and the manager.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    Got to talk shop with Fearless Leader on why the hell he authorized a project so radically different from our existing products. Turns out that he shares my hobby, knows the target market is growing (and notorious cheapasses), and has personally passed up buying this particular class of widget because all the current offerings suck and cost a testicle and a half. On top of that, our primary products are near market saturation,and consolidation of our customers is starting to cut into support revenue (Lesson learned - support contracts should be per-installation, not per-company). So there's active interest in finding a new market and starting a new brand in order to, more or less, save the company's ass from entropy.


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