Researchers have suggested that in order to support collaborations across organizational borders in new product development (NPD) projects, companies need to generate, integrate, and coordinate the knowledge of different departments in the organization. This requires support of the communication flow between the various groups of stakeholders in the company such as the R&D, the production, and the sales departments. Support of the communication flow is also important across organizational boundaries; between the departments within the NPD organization and external stakeholders, primarily suppliers and customers, but also directly between the external stakeholders, primarily customers and suppliers. Project managers (PMs) are at the core of this process as they can link the various stakeholders of the NPD project and thereby facilitate the knowledge communication between these stakeholders. Such linking can be regarded as different types of brokerage. This study aims at creating knowledge about the project manager (PM) as an important link in knowledge communication in new product development (NPD) projects. The study focuses on differences across the NPD project course and on a distinction between three subtypes of brokerage: Brokerage connecting actors from the project team with actors from the various departments within the same organization (intra-organizational brokerage), brokerage connecting employees at the NPD organization with someone working in another organization (inter-organizational brokerage), and brokerage connecting external stakeholders with each other (extra-organizational brokerage). There is little research encompassing all the types of brokerage that the PM performs in NPD projects. Research on knowledge communication in NPD has typically either an internal (intra-organizational) or an external (inter-organizational) focus. Along the same line, studies focusing on brokerage do not make a distinction between internal and external boundaries when considering brokerage. Communication with someone within the same organization but in a different department is treated in the same way as communication with someone outside the boundaries of the company. Research has thus not studied the multiple roles of the PM as a broker of information inside his or her own company, across organizational boundaries, and between persons external to the company. As this communication is at the core of NPD project management, there is a need for such research. The study provides significant methodological additions to prior research, because it is based on an in-depth longitudinal case study with objective data. Unlike many studies that have analyzed the brokerage phenomenon from a static perspective using cross-sectional data, this study provides a dynamic perspective because it is based on the entire population of email exchange (consisting of 3,737 emails) sent from or received by the PM during a large NPD project. Furthermore, as opposed to interview or survey data, email data are verifiable, objective in nature and free of cognitive and psychological biases. The data have been split into four phases of the NPD project and subsequently analysed using UCINET to reveal the different types of brokerage as defined by an extended version of the Gould and Fernandez (1989) typology. The results show that an important task for a PM is to represent the company towards customers and suppliers (inter-organizational brokerage). The PM in addition acts as a link between various (possible) suppliers and between the customer and the suppliers (extra-organizational brokerage). Further, the findings show that the management of the project in terms of linking the stakeholders takes off in the solution development phase rather than in the concept development phase which is the phase in focus in large parts of the research that has taken place in this field. Further, contrary to expectations based on existing knowledge, we found that the production department was involved in the concept development phase. We also found that the suppliers were not involved in the concept development phase but, on the other hand, were strongly involved in the solution development phase in which the PM to a very large extent acted as a hub between possible suppliers for the project. We had also expected that the PM would be more involved in coordination of, to and from the project team than what we found in this study. Based on the study, it seems that some of the connections that we, based on existing knowledge, would expect that the PM creates in the concept development phase, in fact are created at a later point in time; in the solution development phase. The study is longitudinal and relies on actual communication regarding a project in which communication has taken place primarily on email. Only few studies in this area do this. Further, the study differentiates between intra-, inter- and extra-organizational brokerage during different phases of the NPD. This differentiation has, to our knowledge, never been undertaken in research.
International Product Development Management Conference, 2012
New Product Development, Brokerage, Project phases, Internal and external stakeholders, innovation, Project management.