Here Is The Metric That Can Predict Future Innovation Value

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How do you measure the productivity of your innovation investment?  The goal of any R&D organization is to conceive, develop and deliver product and/or services that customers will highly value and therefore be willing to pay a margin premium.

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The challenge is that the standard metric for innovation value is:

R&D Productivity = R&D / Sales

Every wall street analyst calculates it and many companies talk about as if it were a measurement of an organizations ability to innovate.  It's been proven that this metric is meaningless … it is NOT predictive of future success.  I would put forward that a better (not perfect) metric is:

R&D Productivity = Lifetime Gross Margin / Lifetime R&D


  1. I'm not a big fan of using quarterly metrics (snap shot view of R&D spend and sales) to make long term decisions on R&D investment.  You need to look at lifetime GM and lifetime R&D
  2. Gross margin is a good proxy for what R&D can impact.  R&D influences the cost to invent/develop, COGS (cost of goods sold) and the willingness (by building a better mousetrap) of the customer to pay a premium for the product.
  3. I like looking at productivity as a multiple.  In this case, we're answering the question – “For every $ of R&D, we will get back X times as much in GM”.  Don't ask me why … but to me it sounds better when you can say that your getting 20x return on R&D for a given project.
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Some words of caution/advice …..

  • Be aware that there is an offset of R&D/innovation impact.  For example, if your in biotech, the R&D you spent 5 or more years ago is impacting today's gross margin.  You need to account for this offset so that you don't get misled into making decisions on bad data.
  • If you are wanting to use this tool as predictive of where you should spend your R&D, you need to have a future view of the R&D spend and the gross margin over the life of a product.  Yes this is hard but we never said it would easy ….
  • To know if you are good, bad or just plain average, you need to do an extreme benchmark (truly understand cost, investments, etc) of your competitors to establish your industry multiples.  Then do the same for yourself.
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When it comes to innovation value, how do you stack up?

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0 thoughts on “Here Is The Metric That Can Predict Future Innovation Value

  1. Thanks for the food for thought. Predicting the future is always dicey. I’ve seen too many overly optimistic “hockey stick” graphs used to justify spending that later doesn’t return the $$$ predicted. Human nature is fickle. You don’t know if a product will be a hit or a miss, especially if it is a completely new product. At best you can use this type a tool as predictor for a follow-on products, but most of time metrics like this and NPV are used to make managers feel good in the present about the risk they are undertaking.
    When used in retrospect, though, this is a great metric to use to compare those that manage R$D. Not only does it measure whether the innovation was good for the customer, it also gives a measure of how well resources were used in the effort.
    That first metric you give seems kinda goofy. Why put R&D in the numerator? As sales rise, the result goes to 0. “0” as a number indicating high productivity is not intuitive.