OPERA R&D Lab, Berlin, Germany

OPERA R&D Lab, Berlin, Germany

February 12, 2020

Tackling the corporate "deep state" of R&D with guerilla tactics

"Very often, classical R&D approaches fail. Guerilla Tactics are a methodology to lead critical R&D projects to success."

Radical change – which is exactly what is needed for many corporate R&D and engineering departments – requires radical approaches.

On February 12, about 30 R&D thought leaders and seasoned experts followed Roland Berger's invitation to the first OPERA R&D Lab at Spielfeld in Berlin to discuss R&D transformation in the context of operations.

A new Roland Berger approach on "R&D Transformation: Tackle the 'deep state' of R&D with guerilla tactics" served as an innovative starting point for the discussion. Keynote speakers Dr. Dirk Völkel (Chief Innovation Officer of GE Healthcare) and Dr. Valentin Langen (Founder of Ioniq Skincare and Member of the Executive Team at Wagner Group) expressed their view on the role of the CTO and the shift towards Explorative Innovation. Roland Berger will be offering other exclusive events for innovation and R&D executives.

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The advice from our keynote speakers: Trust in the execution of your project teams and think about special units to operate critical R&D projects:

  • Be a coach for the project team, build trust with the execution teams and leadership
  • Stop projects early to avoid unnecessary costs (early stage-gate process)
  • Clearly align the priorities of the project, identify and test key assumptions early
  • Established corporates can’t be efficient and innovative at the same time. Disruptive innovations require special units
  • “Lean start-up” is to product development, what “lean leadership” could be to the CTO-role: MVP-test and iterate leadership-work
  • Listen to others, learn from others, create with others
  • If your company is not innovative, it is the role of the CTO to drive the transformation

The participants of the OPERA R&D Lab 2020 confirm what is daily routine for many companies: R&D projects are often blocked and inefficient. Surprisingly, one of the main reasons is not the development process itself, but problems in internal coordination. These problems are often caused by the thankless position of middle management: a sandwich position between project teams and management. On the one hand, project teams often lack understanding about the (internal) customer, internal/external feedback and clear prioritization. On the other hand, the management level lacks the necessary trust, support and willingness to take risks. Middle management can take corrective action here, but often fails to meet the requirements in practice. They lack the necessary in-depth understanding of the product, the ability to make comprehensive decisions and the pioneering spirit to explore new topics. The result: budgets are undermined, deadlines are not met and a high pressure of control by the management.

The R&D guerilla approach has the potential to solve the problems of critical projects - The first step towards a holistic R&D transformation

Not every development project is suitable for a guerrilla approach, since not every project needs to be carried out outside the clearly regulated R&D processes. The roundtable discussions, however, show clear decision criteria for "critical R&D projects":

  • A high pressure to act: Management defines a clear strategic focus or the company is under pressure to act due to market changes or dynamics
  • New R&D competences are needed: The project is moving along new technologies, the necessary internal knowledge and skilled personnel are not available and the maturity of the R&D organisation is not sufficient
  • High investment required/ at risk: The project is either expected to have a high financial value for the company or the necessary investment is significantly higher than usual

The discussion shows that these critical R&D projects require a comprehensive coordination of soft and hard factors. Hard factors such as adherence to efficient processes, structures and incentives form the necessary basis for this. It is important, however, that a clear framework for action is defined by the management level within which the project team operates.

Furthermore, the participants of the R&D lab often address the topic of ownership and reason. Only with the necessary trust on the part of management is it possible to successfully implement innovations and critical R&D projects is the consensus. A direct link between management and the project team helps with decisions and escalations.

A possible strategy to ensure the success of critical projects is the involvement of all internal and external stakeholders. These include customers and suppliers as well as internal departments such as sales, marketing or purchasing. From experience, the involvement of a detached coaching team can make a significant difference. They are commissioned by the management to help remove obstacles and ensure internal coordination.


Dirk Voelkel


Holger Kuehnlein


Michael Kemnitz


Steffen Gackstatter


Valentin Langen


Uwe Kubach

The OPERA R&D Lab is a unique opportunity to learn more about our #OPERA 2030 framework, its guiding principles and implications for R&D. OPERA stands for: O-pen up operations, P-erfect your value chain, E-mbrace digital, R-eorchestrate value generation, and A-ccelerate the learning game.

The next R&D Lab is already scheduled. The format is an exclusive circle of R&D and innovation leaders across Europe to discuss the hot topics of today's R&D landscape. The focus: A boutique-style event with impulses, exchange and networking at its heart. Pre-register already to be in the loop for updates and to reserve one of the limited seats.

Don't miss out on what is shaping up to be one of the highlights of next year's R&D leaders' calendar!

Download the summary of the event to get more insights into the results of the event. Contact us to deepen the conversation around R&D transformation.

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Tackle the corporate "deep state" of R&D with guerilla tactics


Download of the event summary of the OPERA R&D Lab 2020 and get some insights into what you can expect from next year's event. R&D needs to open-up and focus on individuals to enable change and drive critical R&D projects. Achieving the target picture is driven by the company need and management urgency.

Published March 2020. Available in
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