Collaboration to Innovate
A critical ingredient of innovation is collaboration, especially so when the application of new and emerging technologies is being investigated or during the search for marginal gains. Collaboration both within and between organisations can enable as well as accelerate innovation. Three leading companies in the fields of naval architecture, engineering and yacht building explore how the benefits of effective collaboration can lead to results that are greater than the sum of their parts.
The modern superyacht is by its very nature a highly complex product, featuring sophisticated and greatly integrated systems, all within a platform that has to balance a bias towards design and style with exceptional technical performance. The process of design, engineering, build, commissioning and support of such vessels involves substantial resources spanning international boundaries, technologies and cultures. Collaboration is, therefore, key to the construction of a superyacht: no one person or organisation can be an expert in all fields.
As one of the world’s leading builders of large innovative yachts, Oceanco collaborates with key industry partners via a team of in-house domain specialists and experts to deliver the best results from the combined strength of all participants. Two such partners are Lateral Naval Architects and the independent hydrodynamic research institute, MARIN.
Following the mutual development of a number of innovative superyachts, these companies came together to identify and adopt a best practice collaborative approach to their hull design and optimisation processes. This involved a methodical process that harnessed the right skills at the right time from the participants. With Lateral’s blend of practical optimisation techniques and MARIN’s CFD based approach, as well as decades of practical test results experience, the spectrum of expertise was broadened over a single party approach.
Dirk de Jong, Project Development Manager at Oceanco said: “A key part of the partnership was the mutual setting of goals at the start of the design process, posing questions such as:
- What can be feasibly achieved beyond the stated contractual target performance?
- What do we want to explore?
- What can we adapt or explore from other fields of naval architecture and design?
- How ambitious should we be?
Among other, these are factors that the partnership explored and debated at the outset in order to define challenging but realistic and achievable goals that are properly aligned to the needs of the overarching vessel design and the constraints imposed.”
This collaborative undertaking has delivered significant benefits, with the Lateral/Oceanco/ MARIN partnership developing a series of industry leading hull-forms for Oceanco projects, with a number of designs now launched and further examples under construction in the Netherlands.
Commenting on the results, Enrico Della Valentina at MARIN states that: “This collaboration has set a very high bar in the calm water performances for displacement motor yachts. From our database of 300 comparable model tests, spanning 20 years of development, the Lateral/Oceanco/MARIN partnership has delivered a hull-form which, at its design speed, is the best performing hull in the current MARIN database.” [circa 2017].
However, there will always be obstacles and risks to collaborative working which, without the correct ingredients and approach, will lead to an unsuccessful result. Such an outcome tends to reinforce the self-serving bias of those who promote a more inward facing approach, which can be a difficult situation to recover from if a collaboration fails. Some factors to consider include:
- Improved results, increased competitive advantage
- Key driver for innovation
- Increased breadth and depth of knowledge (company and personal)
- Sharing risk, and better risk mitigation
- Improved use of existing resources
- Team and individual morale
- Competition between partners
- Lack of information and experience
- Lack of resources at decision making stage
- Cultural mismatch
- Resistance to change
- Lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities – weak leadership
- Outcome does not align with investment of time and resources
- Loss of flexibility
- Complexity in decision making
- Diversion of energy and resource away from core activities: “mission drift”
- Lack of commercial awareness relating to budget / time / IPR matters etc.
- Leadership – take the long-term, big picture, strategic view, communicate vision. Promote and establish a culture of trying new things
- Clear aim and objective of collaboration
- Good personal relationships and interpersonal skills amongst team members, trust and friendship are significant advantages
- Compatible cultures or understanding of cultural differences
- Planning and methodology of approach / process
- Transparency surrounding IPR and other commercial matters - form a written agreement
- Skills for change management
- Diversity in team – skills, markets, industries etc.
- Commercial innovation – often a technically innovative approach requires a commercially innovative approach as well
Fundamental to achieving a successful result is that there must be alignment at all levels for collaboration to work. If those at the top want the organisation to collaborate, then those at other levels must have the willingness to do so. The collaboration will not be effective if people think and act only for themselves. Having cultural alignment between collaborating partners is an advantage. If alignment is not absolute, then mutual respect and acknowledgement of each other’s capabilities is essential as this builds respect and trust.
A key benefit of collaboration across multiple organisations can be acting as a catalyst for change. Accepting the way things have been done before can often be the path of least resistance for a team which is also working within the pressure of commercial constraints. Resistance to change and doing things in new ways can act as a significant barrier. Collaboration should ultimately drive adaptation and evolution, and deliver innovation. None of this can be achieved if things never change.
Having a clear plan and methodology to the approach is critical. Everyone should buy into the method, yet it should remain flexible, adaptable and be appropriate for the resources available.
Persistence is a virtue in the face of opposition or failure. If you have the right ingredients, keep going; if you have the wrong ingredients, stop and re-evaluate.
Ultimately, collaborating all comes down to people. Having a room full of clever people does not guarantee a good result regardless of the level of resources at their disposal. If you get the right people, in the right room, at the right time, with the right mindset, then you are 80% of the way to success in changing “me” to “we” and turning people and organisations from contributors to collaborators.