An Examination of Collaboration in High-Technology New Product Development Processes
For more than a decade, researchers have explored the benefits of eliminating organizational boundaries between participants in the new product development (NPD) process. In turn, companies have revamped their NPD processes and organizational structures to deploy cross-functional teams. These efforts toward interfunctional integration have produced a more responsive NPD process, but they don't represent the endgame in the quest for more effective NPD. What's next after the interfunctional walls come down? Pointing out that many high-tech firms have already taken such steps as integrating customers and suppliers into the NPD process, Avan Jassawalla and Hemant Sashittal suggest that such firms need to go beyond integration and start thinking in terms of collaboration. Using information from a study of 10 high-tech industrial firms, they identify factors that seem to increase cross-functional collaboration in NPD, and they develop a conceptual framework that relates those factors to the level of cross-functional collaboration achieved in the NPD process. Compared to integration, collaboration is described as a more complex, higher intensity cross-functional linkage. In addition to high levels of integration, their definition of cross-functional collaboration includes the sense of an equal stake in NPD outcomes, the absence of hidden agendas, and a willingness on the part of participants to understand and accept differences while remaining focused on the organization's common objectives. Collaboration also involves synergy2014that is, the NPD outcomes exceed the sum of the capabilities of the individual participants in the NPD process. Their framework suggests that structural mechanisms such as cross-functional teams can provide significant increases in NPD-related interfunctional integration. However, high levels of integration do not necessarily equate to high levels of collaboration. Characteristics of the organization and the participants also affect the level of collaboration. For example, achieving a high level of collaboration depends on participants who contribute an openness to change, a willingness to cooperate, and a high level of trust. Their framework also points to key organizational factors that affect the level of collaboration2014for example, the priority that senior management gives to NPD and the level of autonomy afforded to participants in the NPD process.