technology transfer


Technology Transfer is a Body Contact Sport!

Repeat after me one hundred times:


 Technology transfer is hard, technology transfer is hard, technology transfer is hard,


This is no joke.  Technology transfer is not only hard, it is incredibly harder than people think it is, even if they think it is hard!  It is one of the two real "death traps" that my experience has found.  (The other is the launch of serial product production, discussed below.)  Almost no one has a realistic view of the difficulties or makes plans to deal with the realistic level of problem they will encounter.


What is "technology transfer"?  It is the transfer of a technology or product from the organization that first conceived it to the organization that will develop it into a successful product.  This can be between research and engineering, or between a small company that thought up the idea and a production-minded company that wishes to exploit it.  Or it can be between two branches of the same organization which are located at different sites, or it can be between companies in two countries which have agreed to produce a product at some new location overseas.  There are many other similar cases.  But the key is: the organization and people who started the technology and who have usually proved its feasibility now wish to have someone else do the product or process development and subsequent commercial exploitation.


So why is it so hard?  Except for the simplest products, the problem is that a profound understanding of the technology/product only exists in the sending organization.  The receiving organization wants to do the job, but simply doesn't understand it well enough to get it right.  But, you say, the sending organization can help out.  True enough.  Except that the sending organization is, by then, occupied with other things.  Furthermore, they rarely understand the constraints and practices of the receiving organization well enough to be of much use.  As an example, if really full documentation of a technology or product is part of the package that is transferred, the situation should work out okay.  Except that the sending organization usually doesn't have a clue what adequate documentation looks like in the receiver's environment.  Think about transferring technology from a university to a production-minded industry.


The only way around this that I have seen is to have personnel from the receiving organization become part of the project in the sending organization, preferably from the beginning but, in any case, well before the transfer is expected to take place.  Likewise, personnel from the sending organization must go with the product/technology to the receiving organization for a significant time, until the transferred product/technology is well established in the new environment.  So here is the lesson:

Technology transfer is a body-contact sport!


It is really people that must be transferred.  They, in turn, will cause the technology transfer to take place, with some chance that it will be successful.  This is not done often enough, perhaps because of the difficulty of moving people organizationally and geographically.  But that doesn't mean it isn't the right way to proceed.  Take heed -- this is a far bigger problem than most managers realize!