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What does a Research and Development Manager do?

By Jeany Miller
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Research and development often leads to greater knowledge of science and business, which in turn can generate new products that apply this information. Such activity is often completed by a team of employees led by the research and development manager. This person usually provides technical oversight and meets program objectives for such companies as pharmaceutical laboratories, manufacturing facilities and engineering firms. He or she may improve existing product lines, implement methods for monitoring current products and also develop new product proposals based on market trends and research. Those proposals are often guided to completion by the manager, who may then work with sales team members to forecast ultimate revenue and profitability.

Changes in technology and highly competitive marketplaces often create the need for research and development (R&D). This is a department usually found in governmental or corporate offices. For example, pharmaceutical laboratories, manufacturing facilities and engineering firms are likely to conduct ongoing R&D to develop new products. Such activity often leads to increased knowledge of both science and business with new applications for that information.

A team of employees designated to plan and implement new processes, services, concepts or products is often led by the research and development manager. Areas of research generally concern life or physical sciences, although product development may also consider new technology, customer demographics and market needs. The manager usually provides technical oversight as required and ensures program objectives are identified and met. He or she may further coordinate logistics and plan department budgets.

Many companies use research and development departments to improve existing product lines. The R&D manager in this sense is often responsible for identifying where and how improvements should exist and implementing the necessary changes. The need for environmentally-friendly packaging, for example, has prompted some manufacturers of bottled water to minimize the amount of plastic used in each container. R&D managers may suggest such process improvements to ensure existing products stay relevant to the marketplace.

The research and development manager may also look for ways to develop or implement methods for monitoring current products. For example, a company may need to improve processes for recording product expenditures and/or research findings. Such data often reflects a product’s performance within the marketplace. Research and development managers may thus identify new ways to complete and review product analyses. These professionals may also stay abreast of new market trends by reading professional journals and scientific papers that highlight changes in processing methods, product formulations or regulatory affairs that may impact a company’s products or services.

New products likely undergo rigorous analysis and testing before they reach retail distributors. The research and development manager may begin the new product process by coordinating with or engaging the services of market research firms. This can provide information concerning customer needs, which in turn often directs internal product research efforts. Such efforts are usually defined by a research and development proposal, in which the manager identifies the objective or purpose of the project, describes applications that can be utilized from findings, calculates the cost involved and lists the equipment or labor requirements. Before completing the proposal, a manager often reviews and analyzes the data to ensure the benefits derived justify company expenditures.

Once reviewed for accuracy, the proposal is routinely provided to company directors who dictate the next course of action with either approval or denial of the project scope. When R&D proposals are accepted, the manager often establishes test requirements for the process or product in question. This likely means developing the testing format and also conducting the actual analysis to verify process or product reliability. If difficulties do arise, the research and development manager often works with other team members to identify solutions.

The R&D manager is likely to oversee new product development from beginning to end. He or she may prepare financial records, record test findings and provide management with progress reports. Once the product is complete, the manager may work with members of the sales team to forecast revenue and profitability.

Research and development jobs often require master’s or doctorate degrees in the relevant field, such as engineering, biochemistry or physics. Candidates may need experience with managing teams and knowledge of how to implement and improve new and existing products. Given the spectrum of duties involved with research and development, managers may also need problem solving and project management skills.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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