Area: Useful tips
Topic: Research and experimental development plan implementetion in practice
Author: Project Compliance and Reporting Officer Gabrielė Adomaitytė
When preparing a business plan for research and experimental development (hereinafter – R&D) and application to receive EU structural funds, it is necessary to justify the number of employees required for R&D activities, specifying their responsibilities for R&D activities and minimum qualification requirements. The requirement of justification is logical, because it is important for both the applicant and the Implementing Authority to make sure that the implementation of R&D activities and at the same time the project is planned rationally and efficiently. We will discuss the cases below when at the begining of project implementation it turns out that prepared R&D business plan is difficult to implement in reality.
QUALIFICATION AND COMPETENCE OF EMPLOYEES
One of the first tasks after the start of the project is to find the staff needed to carry out the project activities. In practice, it is often the case that it is difficult for a project owner to find candidates who meet even the minimum qualification requirements set out in business plan, due to the innovative nature and specificity of R&D activities. As a result, project activities are often delayed, which can lead to non-achievement of set project indicators and project failure.
In such cases, it is possible to sign an employment contract with an employee who does not formally meet the qualification (education) requirements. However, it is necessary to prove that he / she has relevant work experience that has allowed the candidate to acquire the necessary competencies that "outweigh" the formal education criteria. For example, the applicant has foreseen that R&D activities will require a materials engineer-researcher with a master’s degree in engineering and 5 years of professional experience. However, the project owner has recruited an employee with science education and 10 years of professional experience in researching materials used in production and their interactions, identifying and evaluating evolving technologies, which is directly related to his future role in R&D activities of the project. Implementing Authority permits such changes even without a formal project agreement amendment. However, we advise that any deviations from R&D business plan during the implementation of the project should always be agreed with the Implementing Authority in advance.
R&D project is usually based on the development of a new idea, concept, creative activity that solves a scientific problem, and applies research-specific scientific methods. Due to such uncertainties when writing an R&D project application and preparing a business plan it is difficult to plan how many and which position employees will need to achieve the planned results and what competencies will have to be considered. We have discussed the case of change of competencies (qualification) above, but what to do if planned specific position becomes irrelevant or insufficient to achieve the project goal?
In this case, it is necessary to amend the project agreement (minor change) and to replace the non-relevant position with another or to abandon it altogether. It should be noted that such amendment will need to be justified by indicating how it will contribute to the achievement of the project objectives, demonstrate that such change will not have a negative impact on the project results and that it is necessary for the successful completion of the project. It is also important to justify amendment impact on planned project costs. If position is abandoned in the project altogether, it is also necessary to demonstrate to the Implementing Authority that functions of abandoned position will be performed in other ways (recruited a few higher qualification employees will be able to perform wider spectrum activities) or proove that during project implementation performing particular functions has become unnecessary.
EMPLOYEES SALARY OR PURCHASING SERVICES?
When preparing R&D business plan, it is difficult to precisely define the planned results and costs. It is often not clear exactly how much money or time it will take to achieve the desired results. It is due to such uncertainty that sometimes the planned salaries of employees do not correspond to reality, the number of employees is insufficient, because the implementation of activities takes longer than planned during the preparation of the R&D business plan. Thus, in the course of project implementation very often there is a risk of activity results quality, due to the costs required for R&D activities and / or the duration of implementation of activities due to inaccurate assessment at the planning stage. In this case, it is necessary to review the project budget in order to use the funds as efficiently as possible. One way to avoid "overspending" the project budget is to abandon the amount of staff salaries in the budget by purchasing services from suppliers instead. In this way, it is possible to eliminate the risk of delays and insufficient quality of results, as it is possible to do more faster when purchasing services from third parties, due to the larger capacity and competence base available to suppliers. On the other hand, there is a risk that such services will be more expensive. Nevertheless, replacing employee wage costs with the purchase of services is one of the most commonly used practices in eliminating inaccuracies in the R&D business plan. This solution involves a minor modification of project agreement, justifying the waiver of staff remuneration in the light of objective circumstances identified during the project and providing at least three commercial offers for services offered by suppliers (proove the price) and a detailed technical specification for such services (to justify compliance with staff functions).
In conclusion, we would like to point out that the implementation of R&D project in accordance with the criteria set out in R&D business plan is mandatory for all project owners, not only for the criteria of employees intended to carry out R&D activities. When assessing the eligibility of any R&D project costs, the Implementing Agency will always first review their compliance with R&D business plan. Therefore, if during the project you notice that the information in business plan is inconsistent, inaccurate or contradicts the progress of the project in practice, immediately inform the Implementing Authority and consult with the project manager how to eliminate such inconsistencies.
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