Action towards time structures in product development processes - observations on the micro level
In product development processes conventional wisdom has it that structure is provided by strict specifications of product properties, budgets and time schedules that are followed up (Womack et al 1990, Clark & Fujimoto, 1991). This is especially applicable to the car industry, which has the longest history of large, complex development projects directed towards large consumer markets. I claim that such “models” are based on romantic assumptions that the planner commands the required specialised knowledge and that members of development teams are easy to discipline by unrealistic requirements. In real life budgets are overrun and adjusted accordingly if the right arguments are given, specifications are surpassed as technical development and customer tastes progress, while time schedules are manipulated to fit the real situation. To do things according to plan is probably not always right. Still there is a disciplining dimension in these planning tools since they are used as bases for argumentation and as generators of crisis consciousness. In this paper I will concentrate on the time factor as it is socially constructed in a so called “gate system” to control a car development project. One incident in a meeting of the project management team about halfway through the project is analysed against the background of the gate system, the alliance situation, relations to functional departments, production schedules, suppliers participating in development, and other complexifying background factors. It is claimed that time is not a absolute, universal or even “shared” entity in any practical meaning. It is rather a social artefact that can be stretched, bent, manipulated and renegotiated. Still it is an actant in the sense that it sets agendas and provides arenas for argumentation in the general discourse on what constitutes a premium product (which develops into a narrative as nets of actions concord). A “shared” conception of time in the product development project will require a strong narrative as a sense-making device.
Göteborg University. School of Business, Economics and Law