A study of R&D projects how teams innovate

University dissertation from Luleå tekniska universitet

Abstract: The ability to introduce new products and services, i.e. innovations, is regarded as a critical source of competitive advantage, and just as important as before. At the same time, development lead times have been reduced in order to allow a faster time to market. Companies’ strive for innovation, while at the same time reducing product development lead times, will in turn influence how designers and design teams work. Therefore, major challenge, especially for mature companies in established markets, is to have effective ways for the team to continuously accomplish innovations. The purpose of this thesis is to explore how teams work in R&D projects, and particularly how they conduct innovative tasks. The research outlined in this thesis has therefore been guided by two research questions: How do design teams overcome a lack of knowledge when working with new ideas? And, how is knowledge acquired and shared in innovation activities? This research is based on an action research approach. Data is mainly from Sandvik Coromant, a global company that manufactures tools and systems for the metal cutting industry. The company is part of a large engineering group (Sandvik Group) that also manufactures equipment for mining and construction as well as advanced materials. Empirical data was collected mainly through interviews and a survey. To understand the background of innovations, an initial descriptive study, including recipients from award-winning innovative projects from the engineering group, was conducted. The study was later expanded to include more projects and study what type of knowledge was lacking, as well as how the resulting uncertainty was mitigated. Additional studies concerns how engineers use engineering knowledge models for innovation, and organizational factors that can either support or inhibit the sharing of knowledge. Since, innovation is a collaborative effort that takes place in organizations; knowledge is of little use to innovation if it is not shared with others. Findings highlight that neither trust, i.e. handling conflicts and opposing views openly, nor the existence of power and territorial struggles or lack of time significantly affect knowledge sharing. However, important knowledge sharing predecessors are affected by lack of time and how long employees have been employed. Further, new ideas are surrounded by uncertainty, because knowledge concerning if the idea will actually make a difference or not is lacking. To overcome this uncertainty (perceived lack of knowledge) several areas were explored simultaneously, i.e. market, needs and requirements as well as possible solutions. This non-consecutive process is not easy to map into a sequential process model. Hence, a circular model, providing a mean to explain and map these activities, has been proposed.

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