Study on NPD and Designers in High Tech Industries

Study on Development Teams and Designers in High Tech IndustriesIn September 2012, Guido Stompff defended succesfully his PhD thesis at the Technical University in Delft, named “Facilitating Team Cognition. How designers mirror what NPD teams do.” It provides new insights in the underlying mechanisms of innovaton. The book and/or the summary can be downloaded at teamcognition.org

To develop complex products, large multi-disciplinary teams are necessary that are nowadays located at multiple sites around the world.

This PhD research is an in depth exploration of the practice of new product development (NPD).The teams deal with many topics requiring the expertise of several specialists simultaneously. They have to decide together if something is a problem; negotiate whose problem it is; propose multi-disciplinary solutions; and align their activities into a seamless whole. Stated differently: team members have to ‘think collectively’, which is named team cognition.


One of those specialists inside the NPD teams is a designer, focusing on the usability and experience of use of products.

Although there is a vast body of literature on both NPD and design, literature on interacting designers in teams is remarkably absent. This PhD research fills this gap and frames designers in-the-wild, interacting with many others. Three research questions are formulated that guided the inquiry:

1. What factors constitute team cognition in the context of NPD, how and why? 2. What factors in the work of designers moderate team cognition, how and why? 3. What can designers contribute to team cognition in the situation of distributed teams, how and why?

The method used is a `Deweyan inquiry’ whereby interventions and learning are central. A range of data sources is used, including interviews, films, photo’s, documents and participatory observations. Analysis is done deploying a range of methods, triangulating data, methods and co-researchers.A new framework and vocabulary for team cognition was developed, on the base of many observations.

The framework radically reframes collaborative NPD, shifting the focus from communication and ‘shared understanding’ to interactions and joint practice.

The core element of team cognition is an individual who interrelates his activities to those of others. Thereby he learns what the relations are by means of interactions with others and/or with objects resulting from activities. It enables him to envision the system he is part of, both the `as-is’ system and the ‘intended system’. As everybody interrelates his activities, a network of relations arises: joint practice. This is the objects used by many, typical words deployed by all, roles that interact with many and so on. Above all tangible objects are pivotal for teams to align and coordinate activities. At team level several team cognitive processes are discerned, that have specific characteristics and also need to be managed differently.

A strong relation between the practice of designers and team cognition in NPD teams was established.

It is found that designers and their artifacts provide vivid images of the ‘intended system’, providing anchors for other team members what the product is they are creating. It provided the base for a range of experiments, in large distributed teams. These included visualizations, product stories and ‘projectas’. The experiments showed that the framework is viable, providing a range of recommendations for NPD and designers, and questions the premises underlying many theoretical models on NPD.

image credits: teamcognition.org


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Guido Stompff is a senior designer inside a large, innovative R&D environment. His interest in design research and understanding design, teams, and creative collaborative efforts resulted in a PhD study : Facilitation Teamcognition. How designers mirror what teams do. It combines insights on teams, innovation, reflection-in-action, sensemaking and design, into a new perspective on multi-disciplinary teams, highlighting how teams ‘think collectively’.  Learn more at teamcognition.org

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