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Dealing with Virtual R&D

Dealing with Virtual R&D

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Published by Nader Ale Ebrahim

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Published by: Nader Ale Ebrahim on Mar 13, 2011
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Corresponding Author
Dealing with Virtual R&D Teams in New ProductDevelopment
Nader Ale Ebrahim
† 1
, Shamsuddin Ahmed
and Zahari Taha
National and global collaboration in research and development (R&D) is becoming increasinglyhave increased their research and development (R&D) investment in different countries. These multiple sitesencourage the development of more ideas, due to the varied international backgrounds in global networks and theknowledge spillovers. In order to secure the viability of business processes, services and products R&D teams need to access and retrieve information from as many sources as possible. From the other perspective virtual teams areimportant mechanisms for organizations seeking to control scarce resources across geographic and other boundaries. Moreover, virtual collaboration has become vital for most organizations. This is particularly true in thecontext of designing new product and innovative services. In this paper all the major aspects of Virtual R&D teamare discussed in technical terms. T he paper provides an integral definition and characterization of virtual R&Dteam. The potential value that is created by virtual R&D teams for new product development is explored. Lastly,pertinent practical guidelines and implications are presented.
Virtual R&D team, NPD, Technology management 
Organizations are currently facing important andunprecedented challenges in an ever dynamic,constantly changing and complex production andservice environments (Rezgui, 2007). Major trendslike globalization and high demand fluctuation forcecompanies and supply chains to innovate newbusiness models to gain and maintain competitiveposition. Networking, outsourcing, and informationand communication technology are considered asgeneral tools and means to respond to thesechallenges (Salmela and Lukka, 2004). As aconsequence multinational companies (MNCs) haveincreased their research and development (R&D)investment in foreign countries (Reger, 2004). Whilethe outsourcing activities of the MNCs was highlyconcentrated in a handful of economies by thebeginning of the global R&D wave, the offshoreoutsourced R&D activities have now been moregeographically dispersed and this indeed reveals theincreasing value of networking and networks. Thesemultiple sites encourage the development of moreideas, due to the varied international backgrounds inglobal networks (Richtne´r and Rognes, 2008).In different point of view innovation is becomingthe most important key issue for company’s successin the 21st century (Sorli et al., 2006). From the otherdirection to surviving in the highly competitiveindustry, requires strategies to collaborate with orcompete with suitable firms within a network in thenew product development (NPD) process (Chen et al.,2008b). Firms rely heavily on NPD to successfullycompete in increasingly competitive global markets(Batallas and Yassine, 2004). Sooner or later, manyfirms expand their geographic scope from domestic toforeign markets (Lu and Beamish, 2006). Informationtechnology is providing the necessary infrastructureto support the development of new organizationforms. Virtual teams represent one suchorganizational form, one that could revolutionize thealeebrahim@perdana.um.edu.myahmed@um.edu.myzahari_taha@um.edu.myDepartment of Engineering Design and Manufacture,
Faculty of Engineering, University of Malaya
50603 Lembah Pantai, Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA
 important in creating the knowledge that makes research and business more competitive. Multinational enterprises
workplace and provide organizations withunprecedented level of flexibility and responsiveness(Powell et al., 2004). Moreover, information andcommunication technology (ICT) has brought aboutsignificant changes in organizations and producedimportant benefits, including in the areas of marketing and innovation. Many works highlight theimportance of ICT as a key element in integratingmarketing into the NPD process (Vilaseca-Requena etal., 2007). The employed Web Services technology,although very popular nowadays but is still notmature enough, so dealing with it can bring newfindings (Witczynski, 2006). Considering that R&Dteams need to access and retrieve information from asmany sources as possible (Kafouros et al., 2008),virtual teams are important mechanisms fororganizations seeking to leverage scarce resourcesacross geographic and other boundaries (Munkvoldand Zigurs, 2007).The global competition and acceleratedimprovements in basic technologies demandorganizations to develop the ability to manageefficient NPD projects that yield innovative products(Naveh, 2005). It’s a widely held belief that themodern work-world is dominated by computer-mediated communication, and this communication isthe bread and butter of virtual teams (Walvoord et al.,2008). In other words advancement in technologiesand management skills has blurred firm boundaries(Acs and Preston, 1997). Now global communicationis so much accessible, faster and cheaper, thereforemanaging and integrating geographically dispersedR&D has considerably increased (Hegde and Hicks,2008). Many R&D projects already addressed theissue of computer supported source networks(Witczynski, 2006).Virtual teams are important mechanisms fororganizations seeking to leverage scarce resourcesacross geographic and other boundaries. Moreover,virtual collaboration has become vital for mostorganizations. This is particularly true in the contextof designing new product and service innovation.Such collaboration often involves a network of partners located around the world. However at theR&D project level, dealing with such distributedteams challenges both managers and specialists.Virtual teams reduce time-to-market of newlydeveloped products and based on some evidencecollaboration between geographically distributedengineers at manufacturer and supplier sites yieldssome mutual benefits in terms of better quality,reduced costs and a reduction in the time-to-marketbetween 20 to 50 percent for a new product (May andCarter, 2001). The decision to use a virtual team isoften a necessity and not a choice; being ‘virtual’ is inmost cases not a strategy but an operational reality(Gassmann and Von Zedtwitz, 2003b). Despitenumerous studies on the topic in recent years (virtual,distributed, dispersed, R&D teams and new productdevelopment), there still appears the need to a visionwhat a virtual R&D team is and how it can impact theNPD process. In addition, elaborate andcomprehensive responses should be given toquestions such as “do R&D project managers havespecific knowledge of collaboration in a distributedenvironment” and, “are the collaborative processesstill fraught with difficulties?”In this paper the following aspects -comprehensive definition of virtual R&D teams, newproduct development and virtuality,
how virtual R&Dteam impact on NPD processes, trends in organizingvirtual R&D teams, benefit of application of virtualteams, R&D collaboration in distributed environment,and web base collaborative system are discussed intechnical terms. Details of pertinent practicalguidelines and implications for R&D managers arealso discussed.
In this era popularity for virtual team structuresin organizations is growing (Walvoord et al., 2008).Martins et al. (2004) in a major review of theliterature on virtual teams, conclude that ‘with rareexceptions all organizational teams are virtual tosome extent.’ Organizations have moved away fromworking with people who are in our visual proximityto working with people around the globe (Johnson etal., 2001). Although virtual teamwork is a currenttopic in the literature on global organizations but ithas been problematic to define what is ‘virtual’means across multiple institutional contexts (Chudobaet al., 2005). The concept of a “team” has beendescribed as a small number of people withcomplementary skills who are equally committed to acommon purpose, goals, and working approach forwhich they hold themselves mutually accountable(Zenun et al., 2007). It’s a widely accepted fact thatinnovation is better achieved by working in team(Sorli et al., 2006). A majority of successfulinnovations is developed through the collectiveefforts of individuals in new product developmentteams (Akgun et al., 2006). All teams and virtualteams in particular, must develop mechanisms forsharing knowledge, experiences, and insights criticalfor accomplishing their missions (Rosen et al., 2007).It is a worth mentioning that virtual teams areoften formed to overcome geographical or temporalseparations (Cascio and Shurygailo, 2003). Virtualteams work across boundaries of time and space by
Proceedings of the 9th Asia Pasific Industrial Engineering & Management Systems Conference
Nusa Dua, Bali – INDONESIA
December 3rd – 5th, 2008
utilizing modern computer-driven technologies. Theterm “virtual team” is used to cover a wide range of activities and forms of technology-supported working(Anderson et al., 2007). Virtual teams are comprisedof members who are located in more than onephysical location. This team trait has fosteredextensive use of a variety of forms of computer-mediated communication that enable geographicallydispersed members to coordinate their individualefforts and inputs (Peters and Manz, 2007).(Gassmann and Von Zedtwitz, 2003b) defined“virtual team as a group of people and sub-teams whointeract through interdependent tasks guided bycommon purpose and work across links strengthenedby information, communication, and transporttechnologies.” Another definition suggests that virtualteams are distributed work teams whose members aregeographically dispersed and coordinate their work predominantly with electronic information andcommunication technologies (e-mail, video-conferencing, telephone, etc.) (Hertel et al., 2005).Different authors have identified diverse areas. Fromthe perspective of Leenders et al. (Leenders et al.,2003) virtual teams are groups of individualscollaborating in the execution of a specific projectwhile geographically and often temporallydistributed, possibly anywhere within (and beyond)their parent organizations. Lurey and Raisinghani(2001) defined virtual teams - groups of people whowork together although they are often dispersedacross space, time, and/or organizational boundaries.Amongst the different definitions of a virtual team thefollowing concept from which the term employed inthis paper is one of the most widely accepteddefinition: (Powell et al., 2004), ‘‘virtual teams are asgroups of geographically, organizationally and/ortime dispersed workers brought together byinformation technologies to accomplish one or moreorganization tasks ’’
The life cycle of a product/good becomes shorterevery year. Today, leading-edge firms can exploitglobal asset configurations to customize the existingproducts and services. They also have the ability tocombine their resources with an expandingknowledge-base to create a continuous stream of newproducts and services (Miles et al., 2000). With theneeds to respond quickly to dynamic customerdemands, increasing complexity of product designand rapidly changing technologies, the selection of the right set of NPD is critical to a company’s long-term success (Chen et al., 2008b). Also, combinationof factors such as ever changing market needs andexpectations, rough competition and emergingtechnologies among others, challenges being faced byindustrial companies to continuously increase the rateof new products to the market to fulfill all theserequirements (Sorli et al., 2006). The ultimateobjective of all NPD teams is to acquire superiormarketplace through new products (Akgun et al.,2006). In light of the above, product innovation is thecentral force in securing a firm’s competitiveadvantage in international markets (Jeong, 2003).Therefore, NPD is vital and needs to be developedboth innovatively and steadily (Chen et al., 2008b).A multidisciplinary approach is needed to besuccessful in launching new products and managingdaily operations (Flores, 2006). In NPD context,teams developing new products in turbulentenvironments encounter quick depreciation of technology and market knowledge due to rapidlychanging customer needs, wants, and desires, andtechnological know-how (Akgun et al., 2007). ICThelps establish and maintain communication andcooperative relationships both inside and outside theorganization, and makes NPD processes quicker,simpler and less risky (Vilaseca-Requena et al.,2007). ICT enhance the NPD process by shorteningdistances and saving on costs and time (Vilaseca-Requena et al., 2007).
Various studies also offered alarge number of examples from the industry showinghow firms have been using the Internet in their NPDactivities (Ozer, 2004, Ozer, 2000). Moreover, severalrecent studies specifically dealt with the developmentof new technologies and their impact on new productdevelopment among globally dispersed teams(McDonough et al., 2001, Jeong, 2003). Competitivestrategies are forcing companies to deploy their NPDresources globally and, thus making collocated NPDteams prohibitively expensive and logisticallydifficult to manage (Susman et al., 2003)
Research and Development (R&D) is an ongoingprocess for forward thinking technology-basedcompanies. Development of existing products isadvisable to keep ahead of advances that competitorsmay be making. Further, when a potential customerapproach is received, a firm outlining its requirementsfor a product - R&D may be required to fulfill therequest (Lawson et al., 2006). The market success of a company’s R&D effort is strongly related to theuniqueness of the product, both in terms of productfunctions and technical aspects (Kratzer et al., 2005).In order to ensure future sustainability, large amountof money is spent all over the world on R&D (Precup
Proceedings of the 9th Asia Pasific Industrial Engineering & Management Systems Conference
Nusa Dua, Bali – INDONESIA
December 3rd – 5th, 2008

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