Managing goals is a key network management function and is critical in the implementation of industrial R&D projects. In this paper, we explore the implementation of an industrial R&D project, focusing in particular upon the role of means-ends decoupling work to understand how the goals are managed. We combine several data sources in our case research to explore project implementation through an understanding of means-ends decoupling work. We collected in-depth interviews, archival records and field observations within the R&D research setting of an industrial R&D project in the period of 2015 to 2017. Our findings identify three types of means-ends decoupling work in R&D project implementation: ‘work on’ causal complexity, ‘work at’ behavioural invisibility, and ‘work with’ practice multiplicity. In addition, we uncover six dynamic micro-mechanisms that collectively influence the making and nature of means-ends decoupling work and therefore serve to allow for the fluid switching of work as the institutional conditions permit. Overall, our findings have significant implications for understanding means-ends decoupling as a highly skilled network competence for managing R&D project implementation goals.