The Practice of Project Management in Product Development: Insights from the Literature and Cases in High-Tech

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The investigation is focused on a context that organizes all work in projects and has high levels of innovation: product development. The inquiry is focused on small and medium technology companies with manufactured products that manage incremental and highly innovative development projects within the same R&D organization. In these settings, projects fall into three categories (Cooper, 2011): (1) fundamental technology or platform efforts that are not yet focused at a product launch, but spawn multiple future new product projects; (2) maintenance projects for already-launched products, such as extensions, modifications, improvements, and cost reductions; and (3) so-called new product projects. The latter are “major, bold and innovative product developments” (Cooper, 2011, p. 289) aimed at the launch of differentiated products with compelling value propositions. Because of the breadth of projects, the studied R&D organizations provide an ideal setting to study the practice of adapting project management approaches to varying degrees of innovation. The study itself is inductive in nature. After a review of the pertinent literature, this paper presents three consecutive studies that cumulatively lead to the results. Each study informed the questions and analysis of the subsequent study. In total, 17 individuals from 12 different companies were interviewed. Interview results were analyzed by the authors, first for each study and then across studies.

The results and their analysis were also discussed with an advisory panel made up of academic and industry experts.

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