R&D Project Management


Apeksha Patel

Laurence Newman

I know where I'm going a bit more now, rather than feeling a little bit lost as you sometimes can when projects aren't going your way.

Verified by an engineer

As an R&D engineer at Torus Measurement Systems in Telford, Shropshire (a town with a world-famous engineering history thanks to its Iron Bridge), Laurence Newman spends his days helping to design highly sophisticated sensors for the metal packaging industry.

The firm’s tools are used for quality control by some of the biggest names in food and beverages, and can test for anything from dimensions of fizzy drink cans, to the colour of the ink used in packaging, to the amount of pressure a container can hold. “It blew my mind when I first started working here to realise how much is measured on an individual beverage can”.  

Laurence’s relationship with Torus began while at sixth form college; he spent a few weeks doing work experience at the firm which was organised through his school. That experience went well, and so Torus offered to sponsor Laurence through his studies. He went to the University of Leeds (2011-2015) where he completed a degree in aeronautical and aerospace engineering. All the while, he kept working at Torus over his summer holidays, “and since then I’ve been working here full time”.

Laurence began his career in the company’s design department, and this has gradually progressed into an R&D role. It’s a position that sees him and his team “create sensors from scratch, do all the maths behind it, get all the pieces together and turn it into a working sensor”.


Why R&D Project Management?

Laurence attended the IMechE’s R&D Project Management course after being moved into a leadership role in his department. This position “comes with a lot of the responsibility for planning and scheduling my colleague’s time”.

In December 2021, Laurence attended a more general leadership course, but he felt the R&D course could be especially valuable in his new role. After reading about the course contents, “it seemed like a really good fit for me to get to grips with a few of the things that happen [at Torus’s R&D department] but which I wasn’t privy to in the past”.

What was your experience of the course?

Laurence attended the two-day course in person at the MTC (Manufacturing Technology Centre) in Coventry in July 2022. He says there were around 14 other attendees, and the training was delivered by Jean Billingsley (MBA CEng FIMechE).

The course began with an overview of how to plan R&D projects, Laurence explains, with guidance on how to identify different kinds of R&D project and appropriate ways to manage them. “I was really interested by Obeng’s model, concerning the different types of R&D projects. The course taught that it is key to define what type of R&D project you are undertaking before you can really start planning the project. By defining project type, it also helps with applying the correct leadership style”. Laurence adds, “this is something I probably wouldn’t have thought of doing at the start of projects prior to [attending] the course”.

Another area he found especially valuable was “the idea of analysing the Gannt chart for a project after completion of tasks”, which he says was also new to him. “The calculation of ‘earned value’ at any point in the project, allowing [you] to measure a project’s progress and success is something I would like to implement during the next project I am involved with”.

After covering theory on day one, the second day of the course was more practical, Laurence recalls, “reusing a lot of the information that we learned the first day to put it into practice”.

Perhaps the best thing about the course for Laurence was the opportunity for “interaction between everyone”. Jean was “really, really good at mixing us all up and getting us into different groups”, he says. “When you speak to other people from totally different industries, and you see the problems that they have, it makes the theory a bit more real” and puts the learning into context.

Talking to people from different industries also allows for some cross-pollination of ideas. By “speaking to massively different industries about their problems and what issues they have, it really gives you an insight into how you can implement some of that [at Torus]”.

Besides the course content, Laurence also appreciated its structure, which offered a good balance of clear learning outcomes, with a degree of flexibility. Having been on training courses in the past that were either overly rigid, or which felt “a bit thrown together”, Laurence found this course struck the balance well. Jean was able to adapt the content to attendees’ specific R&D project challenges, while also delivering plenty of theory.

What are the three reasons someone should attend the R&D Project Management course?

  1. Learn to identify different types of R&D project and the best way to plan them out.
  2. Put theories into practice with interactive group work.
  3. Learn from other course participants about application in different industries.

What impact has the training had?

“I know where I'm going a bit more now, rather than feeling a little bit lost as you sometimes can when projects aren't going your way”.

Looking back at the course a month after attending, Laurence explains he has begun making notes on ways he can begin applying what he learnt in his new R&D leadership role. “When I returned from the course, I reviewed our current R&D project process documentation and made a plan to implement changes to these in future.”

He says that Torus’s current documentation “tries to implement the same documents used for our standard engineering execution”. However, “the course showed me that an R&D project can need very different requirements due to the uncertainty of scope and methodology. The changes I would like to implement include adding more specific phase gates which allow monitoring of project progress”.

Another area he’d like to use the course learning is on R&D project timeline documentation. “I have I looked at rearranging the order of certain tasks or reviews within the project [documentation]. The key thing I wanted to gain by reviewing or modifying the documents was to ensure the project was still viable at key gates during the project and that scope creep does not occur”. Laurence says he is “hoping to present these changes to the management team” in due course.

More broadly, Laurence says he feels he now has a clearer idea about how to run R&D projects going forward. He attended the course with a colleague, and so the pair could also compare notes and “we were able to come back and share some of what we learned with other people [at Torus]”.

What’s next?

Going forward, Laurence is looking to get a little more settled into his new leadership role, but would potentially be interested in moving into a more managerial position in future. In terms of professional development, IMechE chartership beckons, although “I want to make sure I’ve got the experience first and not rush into applying for it!”.

R&D Project Management

  • Duration:
    2 days
  • Location:
    Coventry, London, Sheffield
  • CPD Hours:
  • UK-Spec:
    A, B, C