Managing the Collaborative Front End of Innovation in Manufacturing Firms : Requirements, Capabilities, and Conditions

Abstract: The front end of innovation is critical to innovative efforts in firms yet it remains to be poorly understood. This especially important since innovation efforts in the front end are becoming increasingly open in line with the era of open innovation. Although the literature on the front end of innovation is well developed, prior studies have largely focused on bilateral agreements and have overlooked conditions for collaborations with science-based partners (universities and research institutes). This is especially true for manufacturing firms, for which a continuous stream of new product ideas are a key source of competitiveness. To make things worse, the front end of innovation in this setting is often characterized by incongruent practices by partners, different magnitudes of fuzziness, and high risks in revealing new ideas. Developing new product definitions with different partners is thus a risky endeavor that may seriously compromise competitive advantages if mishandled. Therefore, there is a need for greater knowledge to facilitate the collaborative front end with different types of partners. Accordingly, the purpose of this dissertation is to understand how to manage the collaborative front end in manufacturing firms, with a particular focus on requirements, capabilities, and conditions.To fulfill this research purpose, data on manufacturing firms were collected through four case studies and one survey. In total, this dissertation is based on empirical data from 81 interviews with R&D members across 10 medium-sized and large manufacturing firms, as well as a survey of 146 small and medium-sized manufacturing firms. Respondents were based in Brazil or Sweden. The key theories and literatures covered in this dissertation include coordination modes, control mechanisms, organizational routines, the resource-based view, and appropriability mechanisms.This dissertation makes numerous theoretical contributions to the front-end literature. First, it extends the front-end literature by presenting the concepts of systematic idea generation and fuzziness assessment as a prerequisite for improving front-end performance. Second, this dissertation extends the front-end literature by listing the collaboration conditions that help firms cooperate with science-based partners. By collaborating with science-based partners, firms can access (unpublished) codified and tacit scientific knowledge, enabling them to rapidly build on the latest research findings. The findings suggest particular practices that can be applied to reduce cultural differences and diminish goal divergence among project members. Third, the findings in this dissertation enrich the front-end literature by describing a set of detailed practices to streamline the involvement of different types of partners using diverse protective practices. Fourth, it suggests a theoretical framework that describes how to manage the collaborative front end of innovation. The theoretical framework explains how manufacturing firms can use their organizational capabilities to develop new product ideas efficiently and safely. In particular, the framework discerns the capabilities that are necessary to explore mechanisms, practices, and routines in terms of divergent thinking, external expertise, and multiple opinions. Altogether, these contributions assist firms to better manage collaborative front end.