The Collaborative Challenge of Product Development: Exploring Sustainable Work Systems Through Critical Incidents in R&D Alliances
2009 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
The aim of this thesis is to empirically study challenges and opportunities in the operational work in contract-based R&D alliances in order to increase the understanding of this type of work system and explore how these work systems could be sustainable. Based on the concept of sustainable work systems, this thesis addresses issues of how work in R&D alliance should support both the competitiveness of the firm as well as regeneration of human resources.
In the area of product development, the main drivers for creating alliances are often strategic and concern the globalization of today’s business environment. Issues such as increased cost-based competition, shorter product life cycles, and a greater need for flexibility to tackle technological or strategic shifts have all been argued to motivate companies to form R&D alliances. No doubt adopting the firm’s development of new products to an R&D alliance strategy has a substantial impact on the operational work. However, despite the vast research on why companies engage in R&D alliances, the knowledge of operational work and how they are operationally managed is still limited. Several scholars have recently reported that failed operations may be one of the most important reasons for situations where R&D alliances do not reach their goals.
An empirical investigation covering 14 R&D alliances has been conducted based on the Critical Incident Technique. The findings – supported by 158 critical incidents, which have been identified by operational leaders – reveal new knowledge about the R&D alliance operational work with implications for both competitiveness and regeneration of human resources.
A central contribution stems from the specific insights given to challenges and opportunities that operational leaders face in the R&D alliance work, in five perspectives on the R&D alliance process: Formation, Formal R&D process, Informal relationships, Embeddedness, and Exit. Further examination of the critical incident data showed several implications for operational leaders with direct contributions to both product development and alliance theory. First, four critical roles for operational leaders in R&D alliances have been suggested: Facilitating, Finishing, Ambassadoring, and Trustkeeping. Secondly, a framework of trust formation mechanisms has been applied and tested. This concluded that process-based, characteristic-based, and institutional-based mechanisms represent important aspects in alliance operation; the relevance of these trust formation mechanisms contributes both to the knowledge of micro-processes of trust formation and specific managerial abilities in R&D alliances. Third, we examine the influence of two types of contextual risks that have been addressed in previous alliance research: relational and performance risks. The comparative analysis of a sub-sample of alliances shows that these risks influence the operational work in R&D alliances for which operational leaders could be specifically trained and prepared. Lastly, a framework that addresses support from HRM in inter-organizational context has been developed and analyzed. This has indicated that HRM represents an important, although unexploited, resource when engaging in R&D alliances.
Furthermore, we have suggested a tentative framework for the R&D alliance as a sustainable work system. The overall findings from this study have been synthesized from a sustainable work systems perspective, based on three organizational principles that have been drawn from practice-centered product innovation: broadened roles and responsibilities, work as a collaborative process, and decentralization of strategic information. A fourth principle has been incorporated as well: support systems for sustainable work. This concluded that, in order to be sustainable, companies that engage in R&D alliances should carefully manage and reassess the consequences of these organizational principles in order to simultaneously support the goals that are involved in this type of work system: to simultaneously support innovation, inter-organizational relationships, and the regeneration of human resources.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH , 2009. , xii, 101 p.
Trita-IEO, ISSN 1100-7982 ; 2009:10
R&D Alliances, product development, sustainable work systems, critical incident technique, operational work
Production Engineering, Human Work Science and Ergonomics
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-11191ISBN: 978-91-7415-425-2OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-11191DiVA: diva2:241357
2009-10-23, F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)
Åhlström, Pär, Professor
Kaulio, Matti, Associate Professor
QC 201008132009-10-052009-10-022013-02-04Bibliographically approved
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