Many businesses organise activities as projects when they need to coordinate loose networks of individuals and firms in order to complete specific, discrete tasks. Some use research and development (R&D) and technical support functions for problem-solving on projects. Yet firms working in this mode rarely have the opportunity to translate lessons from projects into organisational capabilities. This paper explores R&D strategies adopted by project-based firms, drawing on data collected in four case studies of engineering consultancies. It focuses on the development of organisational memory and capability through creation of meta-routines. In doing so, we assess the impact of choices made in organising R&D on learning and capability development. We argue that new models of decentralised R&D are required for project-based environments that combine flexibility and integration with a long-term strategic perspective.