R & D – cost or investment?

Is the development part of the company where you work considered as a cost for the company or as an investment in the future health of the company?

I think this is a highly relevant question to ask since it will have a significant impact on how you are treated and the kind of work that will be expected of you.

Let’s look closer at the differences in the culture of a “R&D cost company” vs. a “R&D is our investment in the future company”.

We start by looking at the differences in how managers are recruited and selected. In my experience in the cost culture there is a much higher percentage of the management that are “money & resources people”. In contrast to “engineering/inventors” and coaches that help people reach the next step in their development or help with technology expertise. This will be a big part in if you are treated as a “resource” that can be thrown around and used like a commodity or an actual person with individual needs and wants. This is also the start of the divide of if you are considered to be a factory worker in a development factory, working by a conveyor belt, or a professional performing an intellectually demanding discipline.

The number of careerist will also be much higher in the cost cutting culture because it is much easier and faster to climb the ladder in that kind of culture. To climb you do not need to show the same long term focus on the company and the actual people. Instead it is of more value to show how you increased revenue and decreased cost for 5-10 quarters.

The money people see opportunities to cut cost by removing supporting functions such as documentation experts, support experts, testers and office assistants. That way they save some money but put the burden on the developers to do all of these additional tasks. The result is lower performance due to less time for development and the cost of context switching. You will be like a surgeon left alone without any nurses around the operating table. But since that cost is not visible in the same direct way as the salary of the supporting roles, the cost cutters won’t care. They are busy preparing for the Q1 expense and earnings report.

On the other hand, when you have a long term investment in something you want it to thrive. If you do not you will not get the expected return down the line. If you invest in the development of a product it is also crucial to invest in the people building it and making sure that they have all the support they need to make their best performance.

System level coherence is very telling of how the management see their product. We have all used products and software systems that breathe quality. The system is robust and responsive and the user experience is clear and in harmony with the complete product. This high level of cohesion is much harder to achieve for cost cutters since long term commitment to people are needed to build it. If different parts and different functions are outsourced all over the world you will not succeed in building a harmonious system. You must have people that actually care about the product and do feel that the company care about them.

The main takeaway is that this higher level of categorization of an organization will have tremendous impact on you wellbeing. If you are someone that feels that “it’s just a job” you might enjoy yourself in the cost cutting culture. But if your are a professional that always strive to improve your craft you can only do so in a culture that regard you as an investment to be taken care of.

This also goes if you are a consultant. There is a separation between resource and expert consultants. Only in an investment culture is it worth the extra money to hire an expert consultant. So if that’s your goal, seek those out.

So make it a priority during your job interviews to find out which kind of culture that is prevalent in the company you are applying for. That will be the metric most impacting your long term happiness in that environment.

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