English summaryVantage points and problem discussion
A first vantage point is that product development takes on an ever-increasing importance in many companies, not the least in service intensive companies. There seem to be a product development race going on, where every participating company has the same m6ission clear in sight; to constantly launch new and attractive offers ahead of their competitors.
A second vantage point is that customers in today’s era of intensive experiences and symbols choose to pay for abstract and intangible values. Such intangible values are services, aesthetics and aura, environmental concern, identity strengthening, culture, experiences, and quality. Although such values may appear intangible they do not come about by themselves as they are all created and developed by human actions and thoughts. But how do people go about in their everyday work to develop such multi-dimensional products in service intense businesses? What is actually being developed? And who are involved in such development work? Those three issues are focal issues in this study.
A third vantage point is the fact that academics have constructed solid walls with theories and models for goods producing companies on one side, and theories and models for service producing companies on the other. Such walls are not physical constructs, on the contrary they are social constructs made by academics. Surely there are large differences in the logic between goods and services in many respects. But so are there between different goods producing companies, as well as between different service producing companies. A resulting dilemma of the walls is that service development, and development of physical products are separated and treated quite in isolation of one another by academics. This separation is viewed as problematic and it is proposed that most companies must be able to skillfully manage and organize multidimensional development work. Work that often includes development of physical product dimensions, as well as of service dimensions, but also of many other value-creating dimensions.
In this dissertation value-creating product development work in service intensive businesses is viewed as a work comprising the design and development of a seamless whole. The whole is viewed to consist of physical product dimensions, service dimensions and other value-creating dimensions integrated with a company-wide value-creating product platform. The conception of product is used synonymously with the conceptions of offering, product offer and customer offer. Service is viewed as a subset of a product.
The aim of the dissertation is to illuminate, analyze, interpret and discuss product development in service intensive businesses with the help of questions, ways of seeing reality, methods and vantage points that have not, to my knowledge, been applied to earlier studies within the field. The study strives to contribute to new insights, new reflections and new questions about product development in service intensive businesses. In order to focus, three research questions have been constructed:
- How are value-creating products being developed in service intensive companies?
- What value-creating products and product dimensions are actually being developed?
- With a focus on actors, knowledge and meanings: Who participate in the product development work?
Scientific view and research methodology
This study is conducted from a subjective viewpoint. As a consequence I hold the social reality for being socially constructed. Another consequence of such an approach is that I see the researcher as the most important tool in the research process.
The study is based on an interpretative and reflective approach. The bases for interpretations and reflections are a broad approach to literature studies, two lengthy case studies, my own pre-understanding of the business environment, but also my own everyday experiences. The field studies were guided by anthropological everyday research methods. During almost four months, most working days were spent with the staff at the head-office of Vingresor, a tour-operating company. Almost the same period of time was then spent at the Internet company, Scandinavia Online. Participant observation, face-to-face small talk, planned interviews, and document studies were the major means of research.
Chapters 4,5 and 6 deal with each one of the research questions respectively. In the first part of each chapter, the research question is treated in view of existing literature. Thereafter it is illuminated, interpreted and discussed with the help of the empirical material. Below the content of each of the three chapters is briefly rendered.
How are value-creating products being developed in service intensive companies?
Rational ideals and lines of thought influence most literature on product development. Texts about product development concern the development of physical products, and product development as a field of knowledge has since long been firmly anchored to engineering. However, product development as a field of knowledge has also been influenced by organization theory and project management theory. One quite uniform model, taking a sequential and phases oriented approach to development work is most often depicted as ideal. The model is illustrated as a number of compulsory phases and steps. The need for concurrent development in order to shorten “time to market” is more and more often stressed. In short, the prototype-like models start with idea generation and terminate with market launch or with market surveys of the launched product.
Most studies on product development seem to be performed from the same, almost norm-like rational assumptions, and from quite similar ways of approaching the research phenomena. The mission seems to be to further elaborate the prototype models. However, there are authors that for decades have questioned the idea of developing new products in a rational way, and in highly formalized and predefined work processes. The pile of texts advocating different presumptions and vantage points in order to find models that could be more suitable to today’s reality is increasing. Such “opposing” texts focus on aspects such as the importance of knowledge creating and spreading, trial and-error, incremental and iterative development rather than break through development, integration and synchronizing, but also on the importance of play and experimentation.
The supply of texts about service development, service construction or service innovation is far more limited than that about development of physical goods. However, authors of service development texts also seem to agree that development should be performed in a rational, formalized and sequential process. Models with ten, seven or four compulsory phases or steps are presented as recommendable. Similar to the norm-like process for product development of physical goods, the process starts with idea generation and ends with launch or implementation.
Several researchers focusing on service development criticize service companies for following competitors close on their heels, rather than taking own command over what should be developed. The deficiency is claimed to be caused by service companies not having implemented a formalized development process. In the dissertation it is discussed whether it could be taken for granted that development governed by some rational impulses and directives from “inside” the company could possibly create offerings of high value to customers. By pulling from institutional theory, it is also questioned whether it would be possible for competitors to avoid following each other closely and constantly responding to each other’s actions.
The field studies at Vingresor and SOL bring forward similarities as well as differences in the ways of performing everyday work. One large difference is that much of the development work at Vingresor is performed on a routine basis. Twice a year, a new product development process is initiated, with the clear mission to launch an assortment for an upcoming season. The process relies on routines, traditions and that everyone knows what to do and when to do. This is not the case at SOL, a much younger company and with a much larger circulation of staff. The processes are different. But so are the conditions they act under. Why, then do most theorists continue to prescribe prototype-like models? Models that are claimed suitable for any context, at any time, under any circumstances?
The rational, formalized, and step-wise prototype work process from the literature is not recognized in reality. My field studies indicate a form of development in both companies, that takes a much more incremental, stepwise, iterative, modifying, and modular approach to development, than is proposed in the prototype models. In my field-settings, during the time I spent there, product development was much about justifying, improving, completing, and incrementally renewing existing product offers and assortment. Everyday work was guided by the current business model (at SOL) or the current strategic plan (at Vingresor). However, both companies have at certain times during their time of evolution, performed more radical product development work.
At SOL, there was much discontent expressed with the modifying art of the development work. Such kind of adjustment-work was by many developers not considered to be sufficiently challenging and exciting. At Vingresor, there was a widespread concern among product developers that they were expected by others to undertake a co-ordinating role in the product development work. While their own desire was to conduct and manage the whole development process.
An informal but widespread scanning process was continuously running in the two companies: A process where developers and managers constantly kept their eyes and ears open to noticing clues that could potentially have impact on their own product offers. In this process the interest was mainly focused on competitors, markets and customers, technology, and to some respect macro changes in society. Interpretations made from such clues could result in the initiation of new or revised product development work at short notice. Product development is much about noticing signals, interpreting signals, and initiating and performing development work on the basis of the interpretations.
Whatvalue-creating products and product dimensions are actually being developed?
This issue has not often been illuminated and discussed in existing literature. In this dissertation it is argued that the goal of development work must be to develop multidimensional, value-creating product and product dimensions that from a holistic viewpoint of customers will be experiences as highly value-creating. Customers experience, judge and value a company’s value-creating capability in every moment of confrontation, meeting, use and interaction with a company’s value creating manifest-ations of any kind. Such value-creating manifestations can consist of physical goods, services, but also of many others value-creating dimensions. Customers often meet, use, interact and confront a company’s value creating and multidimensional expressions before, during, and after buying situations, as well as during and after use of the product.
It is proposed that development staff does not create and develop valuable products. What they are assigned to do is to prepare for, and create good conditions for later value creation to prosper. Value is created with the help of the senses, the minds, and the hearts of customers. It is created as they judge a company’s product expressions in the light of everyday use, confrontation and interaction with them. Therefore it is of high importance for the developers to gain a thoroughly understanding of what value-creating dimensions customers value highly in everyday use and interaction with a company’s value-creating expressions of different kinds.
At Vingresor, a common notion is that product development comprehends the task of developing a product assortment of hotels, resorts and concepts for a forthcoming season. A widespread notion is that product managers at the product department are the ones that perform product development work. In the study it is discussed that from a value-creating perspective, many more persons were involved in the work of developing value-creating dimensions and expressions that customers interact with, confront, meet, use and therefore value more or less highly. At SOL, product development comprised the work of filling the Internet portal with dimensions that were assumed to create high value for users. A common notion was that value was best created by developing an interesting content, a good technical functionality and attractive technical features, a well functioning customer-interface and a uniform and attractive design - which was labeled the “Feel and touch” dimension in everyday language.
It appeared clearly that the notions most people shared about product development work, was that the work is about developing and launching concepts and “wrapped” products. No one expressed notions that such concepts and wrapped products, were to be integrated, anchored, and finally judged by customers as a part in a larger, multi-dimensional and seamless whole. Who is securing that good conditions for a highly valuable seamless whole, that will be experienced, judged and valued in a great number of here-and-now interactions by customers, is being developed? No one had that responsibility in the two field-settings.
With a focus on actors, knowledge and meanings: Whoparticipate in the product development work?
Several authors have lately focused on the phenomenon of product development under the theoretical frameworks of knowledge and knowledge creation. The theoretical fields of sensemaking and meaning creation have not been used as a perspective to understand product development, as far as I have found.
In this dissertation it is understood that aspects related to the creation and spreading of meanings and knowledge are constantly present in everyday work of product development. One reason for this may be the fact that product development is a highly multidimensional and multifaceted work, comprising many people with different group- and functional-belongings. The field material is interpreted, illuminated and discussed thoroughly under the light of these two fields of theory. Integration, co-operation, and co-ordination stand out as important but awkward and precarious aspects of the development work.
The bag is tied up: A retrospect and contributions
In the last chapter a retrospect to the first chapter is made. Thereafter the main contributions of the dissertation are discussed and elaborated on.
The dissertation strives to contribute with a deep, empirical illumination of everyday product development work in two service intensive fields which have been little studied. It is stressed that development work in service intensive companies is a multi-mensional work that embrace design and development of service dimensions and physical product dimensions and other value-creating dimensions, as well as integrating them all with the company wide product platform. It is also brought forward that customers value a company’s products as a multi-dimensional and seamless whole and their valuation is based on how the many everyday “here-and-now” interactions with a company’s value-creating manifestations are experienced and perceived. As a consequence it becomes evident that a deep understanding of customer perceptions and experiences of interactions and use from an everyday perspective is one, among several, sources to development work.
It is argued that product development work in service intensive companies sometimes is undertaken with the intention to develop quite radical news. While at other times the development work is of another kind, where it embraces stepwise improvements, incremental development, and slight but continuous modifications of the present assortment. It is also discussed that competitors tend to follow each other closely in the development track.
The ability to co-ordinate and integrate the development experts, and their different knowledge, meanings, and actions is brought forward and illuminated as an important but precarious task. Another contribution is a thorough discussion and interpretation of a number of socially constructed polarizations, expressed as paradoxes, dilemmas and dualism. Such constructions appear to thrive well in the product development surroundings of service intensive businesses. The vivid presence of polarization is interpreted as one possible reason for de-motivation, and conflicts between meanings, interests and actors involved in everyday product development work in my field studies. However, the presence of paradoxes and dilemmas could also be a possible force that could stimulate development, improvement and creativity, if well managed and treated.
Finally, ten suggestions are given to practitioners from my horizon of today. And ideas for future research issues are also brought forward.
Stockholm: Stockholm University, 2002. , 266 p.
Produktutveckling, Tjänsteutveckling, Tjänsteintensiva företag, Värdeskapande, Service Management, Kvalitet, Kunskap Meningsskapande, Tjänsteinnovation