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Why having a coach

We recently had our first meeting with our KIC InnoEnergy coach, a chemist and seasoned tech/energy consultant. Together we went through our project timeline and blueprints. Identifying weak points and strengths, market forecasts and the virtues of rubber versus steel connectors, he helped us get a fresh perspective on willpower energy. Here are some of the takeaways from our meeting:

1) Pose the tough questions.

Why are we doing this? Who cares? How do we convince the people who don’t? Is that even possible? Why are we doing THIS and not THAT and have we thought about alternative x, y and z, (which are, by the way, all cheaper)? Will we make profit from this? What will come out of this project?

These questions help frame and focus your work. They will also help you when you face critics—and you will inevitably have critics. If you don’t, your project probably didn’t work. Answer their questions before they have a chance to pose them if you want to be convincing.

2) Anticipate problems.

Not all problems can be avoided or even foreseen. However, the more you think about them beforehand the less you will end up being surprised in the end. The worst thing is to come to the middle of a project and finding out that the reason nothing has been working for a month is because you’ve set your system at the wrong temperature—and then realizing you have no way to change the temperature and you have to rebuild the entire thing from scratch. 

Ask yourself, what can go wrong in one month, one year, ten years? This can range from the integrity of the materials you use to what the market might look like. As a project in the energy sector, we have to think about whether or not our willpower system will still be something consumers want in ten years. Have you thought about the life duration of all of your parts—that doesn’t only mean consumables, but also screws and pipes. 

3) Take your FMEA seriously.

Part of anticipating problems is dedicating a chunk of time to completing an FMEA, a failure mode and effects analysis. In an FMEA, you rate how likely a system failure is to occur, how disastrous it could be and how likely you are to realize that something has gone wrong before it is too late. The idea is that designing a system with potential failures in mind will help build fail-safes in from the start. If your FMEA reveals that every single part of your system will always work completely perfectly, you’ve probably done something wrong.

4) Build a personal relationship with you subcontractors / consortium members.

Contracting out work to experts has a ton of benefits. As experts they can definitely deliver a much higher quality product that you can. It also frees up your time to concentrate on making another part of the project the best it can be. However, when you contract out work you also give up an element of control. By building a personal relationship with your partners, they are more likely to give your project priority and actually care about it succeeding.

And the most important question,

5) What’s your gut telling you?

At the end of our session, our coach asked us what our gut feelings were: What parts of our project give us a bellyache, and where do we have a good feeling? This was more than just looking for problems—after spending two days talking about potential problems, we had a good grasp on what could go wrong. What our coach wanted us to do was look at each part of our project and decide, is this something that we know we can make work, or is this something that might screw us over later?

As the American founding father Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” By thinking about everything that can go wrong, you can face surprises with a plan b and keep moving forward.

(JeKa - 30.06.2016)


This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 726539.