Getting Ahead of Demand: Using
Intelligence Foresight to Better
It is increasingly challenging to plan R&D in a way that will keep the company ahead of the demands of consumers and
competitors, especially within durable goods
and materials science companies.
Some site an issue with “R&D lag”—
the inability of R&D teams to make new
materials that can meet consumer demands.
While R&D teams don’t always agree that
they lag behind market requirements, there
is a common view that product managers
must give R&D planners much earlier and
better cues about what’s coming in the
market. They need to know what will be
needed and when, if their company is to
meet market needs. Otherwise the R&D
team has to forecast these needs themselves.
On the other hand, market facing teams—
such as product managers and marketing
staff—often feel that they do provide R&D
teams with the information they need. R&D
planners often reply in return that what
they get is “too little and too late,” since they
often need far longer to identify or create
new materials than the 12 to 18 month
“forecast window” they get from product
and marketing managers.
Understanding the disconnect
R&D planners want more clarity on three
types of information: Emerging customer
needs, new technologies, and competitors’
plans for meeting customer needs using new
technologies. They want to know:
• What attributes customers will likely want
in their products, and when they will need
them—in time to develop materials that
suit the need.
• What technologies are newly emerging, that
might be commercialized to meet customer
• What competitors are doing to meet the
need, and what technologies they are using
to do this.
For customer needs and competitor
intelligence, R&D teams often look to their
market facing teams to help plan R&D
activities. For technology forecasting, R&D
leaders often indicate they feel they have a
direct mandate to do this work themselves—
but that they lack a process to do that
forecasting, beyond simple web searches and
searches of patent applications.
Multiple conversations with market,
product, and R&D planners, left us with
• Do many companies believe that R&D
production lags behind market demand?
• What forces make it hard for R&D planners
to clearly see what’s needed? Why can’t
they get the information they need from
marketing and product management?
• Do companies really expect their R&D to be
able to anticipate market changes?
• In those companies doing a reasonable job of
getting R&D planners the information they
need, how are they doing it?
To answer these questions, we launched
a project to interview personnel at ten
different companies that were engaged in
market, product, or R&D planning. (Most
of our interviews were on the R&D side.)
We conducted over 50 in-depth interviews.
Our study’s preliminary findings show
the need for a further quantitative study,
engaging many more companies—but they
also provide some interesting initial insights.
These insights are captured here.
Rapid improvements in consumer
technology create expectations in
An increasing pace of change means R&D
teams need better abilities to forecast
change. Companies that rely on technology
for competitive advantage face continual
stress as competitors acquire and apply
new technologies that could outpace (or
replace) them. Ray Kurzweil proposed in
his 2001 essay “The Law of Accelerating
Returns,” that the pace of technological
change is exponential, doubling (at the
time of his writing) every 10 years, as
successive innovators create “ever more
powerful technologies using the tools from
the previous round of innovation.” (Ray
For consumers, this acceleration of
change may be most visible in consumer
electronics. Smart phones are an example.
MIT Technology Review noted in 2012 that
smart phones may be “spreading faster” than
any technology in human history.
The dark side of this astounding growth
is that accelerating change in consumer
electronics and mobile applications may be
creating additional problems for durables
As new technology changes what
consumers can get from phones, tablets,
and mobile apps, consumers expect faster
changes in other areas—such as automobiles
and household appliances. But many
durable goods manufacturers may face
longer development times and higher costs
than those normally seen in information
More than one R&D leader described
By Kent and Nancy Potter, Bennion Group