Prioritizing Project Proposals
Which activities should be the R&D priority? How can we compare the potentials of
dissimilar opportunities? What is the right balance of projects in the portfolio?
The rst principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easi-
est person to fool.
Richard P. Feynman
Edwin Land developed two completely different processes for making
polarized lters in the 1930s before he achieved fame with instant photog-
raphy. The name Polaroid derived from the company’s original technology.
Lands rst process employed a crystalline form of iodoquinine sulfate, which
was known to act as a polarizer. Earlier researchers had tried and failed to
grow crystals large enough for optical work. Instead, Land employed a mul-
titude of tiny crystal needles. He mixed them with binders to form a thick
colloidal dispersion. By forcing this mixture through a narrow slit, the crys-
tals became uniformly oriented in one direction, creating the rst polarized
Land had a very specic vision of the product that he wanted to create. He
had extensive knowledge of the prior art and academic research into polar-
ized light. Harvard Universitys resources were close at hand to provide
advice and encouragement. With a well-equipped laboratory, he was able
to control and understand all stages of the bench-scale development work
to rene his ideas quickly. Land could also immediately evaluate the tness
of his samples. With this combination of tools, all the essential elements for
rapid development were available to him.
Despite his technical achievements, Land’s business model was not prof-
itable. The company struggled for a decade, because automakers rejected
Lands original vision for polarized headlights on cars. Ironically, Eastman
Kodak kept the rm alive through the Great Depression, with orders for
polarized camera lters. World War II made the company protable with a
tremendous demand for polarizing lters, glasses, and 3D imagers. Lands
history argues for a diversied portfolio of projects, because even the best
single-product idea does not guarantee commercial success in a predictable
time frame.
Process-dependent products have an extra dimension of risk compared
with others. Uncertainties include: the resource requirements for each proj-
ect; whether the available process will be appropriate for the application; and
124 Process Techniques for Engineering High-Performance Materials
exactly how long commercialization will take. Because of these doubts, there
is a strong temptation to concentrate on technology and market areas that
have succeeded for you in the past. The choice between sticking to a proven
formula and diversifying into new territory is never easy.
Prioritizing competing proposals:
• It is difcult or impossible to prioritize projects across all the diverse
markets, divisions, and project types in a large company. Changing
conditions will alter the relative priorities on a continuous basis. It is
unwieldy to make these choices in a centralized technical function.
The management of functional areas/regions should decide how
best to allocate resources.
• Resources must be available to quickly pursue reghting and short
lead-time product modications. Never commit all of your assets to
a slate of long-term projects.
• Market-driven companies should pursue multiple projects to
address their top new market needs. You cannot count on customers
to embrace the one option that is optimal for you.
• Process-driven companies will pursue many different technologies
in the hopes of nding one that succeeds in enhancing their capa-
bilities and keeps them ahead of the competition.
• Development projects for process-dependent materials generally
have higher risk and uncertainty than those for basic chemicals or

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