Organizing Product Development - Formalizing the Informal in Interdependent Knowledge Work
Doctoral thesis, 1996

This thesis is concerned with organizing product development in the setting of established manufacturing firms. Product development practices have undergone major changes during the past decade. Companies increasingly see product development as a key tool for competitiveness. Altogether, product development performance implies not only the ability to optimize the life-cycle of a product being developed but also the ability to build broader and more long-term capabilities, in terms of product and process platforms. As a result of this trend the amount of reciprocal task interdependencies to be operatively considered has increased. These interdependencies span over different types of organizational and technical boundaries, constituting an intricate organizing problem. Existing views of organizing have basically urged for more planning of tasks, prior to their execution, in order to reduce interdependencies and unanticipated problems. This thesis, on the contrary, argues that a more dynamic organizing approach is advantageous, because it can stimulate knowledge creation throughout the process. Operative organizing principles based upon such an approach are scarce, and the overall purpose of this research has been to develop such principles for product development. Through iterative empirical investigations in three major steps, organizing concepts have been refined. The first two steps included ex-post case studies of product development projects in four manufacturing firms. The third step included a longitudinal study of six product development projects at six different manufacturing companies. Altogether, these investigations comprise nearly 200 interviews as well as observations, questionnaires, collection of secondary data, and frequent telephone contacts. The thesis work has resulted in a generic organizing model for product development in established manufacturing firms, theoretically elaborated upon in this summary. A central idea in the model is to create a self-organizing "visionary pull" based upon a centralized, yet highly interactive task definition phase. Given the extremely interdependent environment, two concepts that "formalize the informal" are suggested as complements to visionary pull, namely "task-specific forums" and "handshaking". Task-specific forums are supposed to evolve from within the process, through handshaking, thereby constituting a recursive and scale-invariant organizing principle that can flexibly adapt to the needs of the process, and not vice versa. It is argued that the organizing model has discriminant validity, differing significantly from other models. However, since the model has evolved through theoretical and empirical investigations, future research is required for further validation.

task interdependence

product development management

self-organizing work

organizational knowledge creation

efficiency and effectiveness


Mats Lundqvist

Chalmers, Department of Operations Management and Work Organization

Subject Categories

Production Engineering, Human Work Science and Ergonomics



Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola. Ny serie: 1191

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