R&D Has Too Much Power in Startups

You know the scene: some sort of a planning meeting. Either deciding on a roadmap quarterly/yearly roadmap, or sprint planning. Product bring up something. “Hmm… that’s nice but will take at least 3 months.” *poof* “Is that really worth 3 sprints?” *poof* “It doesn’t make sense to do this before we refactor that component, and that’s not happening in this quarter” *poof*

I’m certain that you can relate. Ideas are brought to the table, and R&D, even unintentionally, focus on warding off anything that rocks the boat too much. There’s no malicious intent. They just do what they found out to work: not getting sucked into anything that might turn out to be a death march. No one wants to stick their neck out.

The issue here is the lack of equilibrium. Too often, R&D has all the cards. If they veto anything, what can anyone else say? If they come up with absurd cost estimates, what more is there to do?

This sort of relationship between departments is especially common in organizations that do not truly empower all their departments. When R&D is treated as an in-sourcing group that doesn’t get any rewards and autonomy, they become over protective. And the fault lies everywhere. Taking ownership means working in partnership.

Instead of batting away every request you get, consider a true negotiation. Rather than get Jira tasks and assigning them onwards, imagine defining goals together and letting your R&D team decide on further steps by itself. As a tech executive, this is what you should be aspiring to see. That’s the kind of ownership you should establish, and that starts with your mindset and attitude.

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