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R&D Project Reports – What Your Board Really Wants To Know.

Posted 3 years ago

What does your Board really want to know about your research and development project? These tips will go a long way towards ensuring your quarterly project reports get read every time, keeping your commercialisation efforts top of the strategic priority list.


As an R&D Project Manager, you probably spend a good chunk of time each quarter preparing progress reports. The consumers of these reports might include government funding agencies, your Board, senior management, and collaboration partners, among others. You probably invest considerable energy in making the reports comprehensive and accurate, because you know the information will be used to determine future funding decisions.

But too often, we speak to R&D Managers who are frustrated to field questions from board members or senior management that make it quite clear their detailed R&D project reports have not been read. Worse still, these critical decision-makers seem to have little to no understanding of the true purpose or intended outcomes of the project. A 2019 report by AICD found that 57% of board directors do not know how much their organisation spends on R&D and innovation. Without board support, R&D projects are destined to take a back seat, and risk being the first budgets to be trimmed when times are lean.

To ensure project funding is renewed or continued, it is critical to ensure the board is aware of R&D objectives, outcomes, and potential organisational impact. You need to demonstrate that project activities are progressing to de-risk future funding or operational decisions. So, what do you need to include in your reports to make sure they get read? And what can you leave out, to save yourself unnecessary time and effort?


Do Include

🗸 Project objectives

Research and development reports should always list the original project objectives first and foremost (aligned with broader company objective). What value is does the project aim to deliver? How will this benefit the company? How does it align with the broader corporate strategic goals? If you can demonstrate in the first few sentences how critical this project is to achieving key goals of the organisation, your board will be more likely to put your report top of the ‘to-read’ pile.

🗸 Progress update

The next few sections should describe the baseline, milestones, and the progress of the research projects up to the date of the report. Keep it short. Only detail the exceptions or significant events. Use headings, dot points, and limited jargon. Think FAQs, not experiment report. Clearly demonstrate progress and highlight any key discoveries. If the research has uncovered new areas for future exploration, make note of them but do not allow this to distract from your primary, original objectives.

🗸 Variances

The next section should outline cost and schedule variances, and indicate the management steps necessary to bring the project back on track, if applicable. Boards are trained to mitigate and minimise risks. If a project has gone over budget, or timelines have stretched, you will need to explain why (very clearly) and how these variances will be corrected.


Do not include

✗ Marketing or promotional hype

Don’t bother including promotional material in your progress reports, unless you have gathered a new and relevant insight about the potential value. While press releases and brochures can appear to lend credibility to your research, that’s not what your report is about. They bulk up the report and tend to have minimal impact on your readers.

✗ Too much detail

Numbers are important. Objectives and progress against milestones are important. Complex technical definitions and literature reviews of comparative studies are not important, at least not in this context. Keep your project report concise and to the point. Include contact information so the Board knows who to contact if they want to delve deeper.

✗ Excuses

If the project has strayed off track, don’t make lengthy excuses in your report. Focus on new priorities and expected delivery dates. Lessons learnt may also be useful, if they reveal a significant future benefit to the project and organisation. For example, “The process was more complicated than expected. We now have a new IP position that is expected to increase the project license revenue – if we wish to pursue this avenue. The revised IP position is currently being reviewed by our legal team. A full financial analysis will be provided by end of Q2.”


By keeping your R&D project reports concise, accurate and aligned to broader company objectives, you will better enable your Board to see the value in your work. Bringing them along on the journey will make your chances of ongoing funding much more likely.

Ideally, R&D should go beyond achieving pre-set company objectives and play an active role in shaping corporate strategy. Robust, well-funded R&D programs can develop differentiated offerings for the company’s priority markets, keeping ahead of competitors, and reveal strategic opportunities that inform future corporate strategic goals.

But if your organisation is not quite there yet, the best thing you can do is make sure the key decision makers understand the relevance and potential impact of your current R&D projects. And the first step is to make sure your reports are being read.



If you would like to know more about tools and frameworks that can help keep your research and development program high on your board’s strategic priority list, contact us for a free consultation.



AICD Report Link: https://aicd.companydirectors.com.au/advocacy/research/driving-innovation-the-boardroom-gap