Visual Management - on Communication in Product Development Organizations

University dissertation from Chalmers University of Technology

Abstract: Product development implies a need for information processing capability due to its uncertain and ambiguous nature. Uncertainty is troublesome as it limits an organization’s ability to plan for, and make decisions about, the activities that need to be made in order to reach the objectives of the organization. Ambiguity stems from individuals having differing interpretations of a situation, which further complicates communication and decision making. This thesis discusses visual management as a way of improving an organization’s information processing capability. Visualization seems to be able to provide a support for information processing in R&D organizations, but the research on visualization in management is not as advanced as in other fields, such as marketing and education. Thus, the overall purpose of the research presented in this thesis is to explore visual management and its use in product development organizations. Visualizations in product development are typically related to the communication of products and design concepts. However, this thesis is primarily focused on task communication, i.e., how the process, the tasks and the deliverables are communicated. The purpose is further concretized through three research questions: 1) What are the implications of using visual management in product development? 2) How can visual management be implemented and evaluated in product development? 3) How can the accessibility of information be increased to support information processing in product development? These questions are answered by three empirical studies and a conceptual study. The empirical data is primarily collected through 99 interviews at six large product development organizations. The findings show that the cognitive benefits of visualization can support managerial tasks, and that visual management can play a role in supporting communication between individuals. The thesis argues that visualizations trigger and support the teams’ information processing capability through an improved overview together with the use of rich, synchronous and frequent communication using non-canonical boundary objects based on real-time information. Such objects used for task communication increase the team’s information processing capability, thereby reducing uncertainty and ambiguity. The thesis contributes to theory on Visual management with empirical evidence of the link between using Visual management and more purposive means of communication. It also discusses the accessibility of information as a prerequisite for information processing, and suggests strategies for improving the accessibility. It also discusses how Visual management can be implemented and evaluated.

  This dissertation MIGHT be available in PDF-format. Check this page to see if it is available for download.