دانش و مدیریت کیفیت : دیدگاه تحقیق و توسعه
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|4461||2009||11 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید|
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Technovation, Volume 29, Issue 11, November 2009, Pages 775–785
The nature of knowledge management in a research and development (R&D) environment and the implications for the use of quality systems are examined. We suggest knowledge inquiry in an R&D context is localised, provisional, mediated and pragmatic. Using case study analysis of seven technology-based UK R&D organisations we investigate their experiences and how use of quality systems promotes and/or discourages the exploration and exploitation of R&D knowledge. We argue that the knowledge-intensive nature of R&D activity, coupled to the endlessly re-constructed nature of the knowledge, precludes the use of generic frameworks or best-practice guidelines. We conclude that the use of quality systems in R&D environments are most effective when they provide an organisational background or frame within which individuals are encouraged to undertake inquiries that are integrated with the firm's strategic concerns without these concerns being at all fixed. Such systems are least effective when they externally impose procedures as unmoveable and immutable “blueprints”.
The rise of the “network” or “information” economies (Castells, 2000; Nonaka et al., 2001; Roos et al., 1997; Volberda, 1998) signified by terms such as “intensive”, “innovative” and “flexible” suggest that firm performance is increasingly predicated on the efficient and effective use of knowledge (Grant, 1996). Acting knowledgeably, rather than repetitively, is becoming critical because not only does it prompt learning from experience and provide insight into possible commercial futures, it is hard to imitate and can be strategically distinctive (Kogut and Zander, 1992). The knowledge management task can blend a depth and richness of experience (exposing people to new ways of doing things and enhancing problem-solving capabilities such as experimentation) with a sufficient procedural clarity and control to exploit such knowledge. It is this blend of exploration and exploitation that Hage (1999) calls looking to the consequences as well as causes of innovation. So managing knowledgeable activity requires the ability to create strategically useful insight and skills as well as providing the means by which these can be made organisationally available through articulation, codification, transfer and transformation (Argote et al., 2003). This involves managers devising and establishing routines that help stimulate and diffuse innovation throughout the firm's structures and communities, whilst remaining focused on what actions are helpful, in which circumstances, and in what ways the generation and evaluation of innovation contributes to performance (Feldman and Rafaeli, 2002; Knudsen and Levinthal, 2007). The ever-present risk is that this balance between exploration and exploitation becomes skewed to the latter as routines encourage settled activities and rigidities (Lemon and Sahota, 2004; Zollo and Winter, 2002). Established knowledge becomes a source of comforting certainty that reduces exposure to potential future opportunities (Garud et al., 2008). In casting knowledge management as a practice oscillating between creativity and control (Lessem, 2001), researchers require a richer awareness of how innovation arises from continually negotiated and socially embedded patterns of organisational activity within and between firms. These activities can consist of specific knowledge claims, background norms, material objects and technologies, organisational procedures, collective habits and the wider institutional context. Resource-based views of the firm typically emphasise knowledge as a skill or asset with the managerial role being the recognition, absorption and exploitation of these skills and assets using organisational routines. We suggest that equally important for knowledge managers is an awareness of how innovation arises from the creative agency of those being organised (Pitelis, 2007; Tsoukas, 1996). For example, Skovvang et al.'s (2003) study of Danish firms suggested that a critical aspect of successful knowledge management was the idea that different assumptions about the nature of knowledge requires different management approaches. From this perspective, the use of organisational routines is often counter-productive if managers are insensitive to the localised behavioural as well as structural conditions in which they are applied (Berends et al., 2003). This means routines, where they are used, can be adapted, so that organisational habit becomes a contested terrain (Engeström and Blackler, 2005). Moreover, management cannot presume itself working on something “at a distance”, the knowledge being “recognized”, “encouraged” and “exploited” remains intimate to their own activities as well as to those for whom innovation is an explicit responsibility. In this paper we examine the exploration and exploitation of knowledge within research and development (R&D) and new product development (NPD) activities in a number of large firms. It is these organisational activities which occupy a continually negotiated threshold between creativity and control and exploration and exploitation. Specifically, we studied the use of quality systems in R&D contexts. Whilst not overtly a knowledge management tool, there is substantial overlap in that quality systems articulate and codify a firm's activities and skills. In Zollo and Winter's (2002) terms, this articulation and codification converts accumulated experience into knowledge by making explicit learning that otherwise would remain mute, ad hoc and hence strategically unavailable. Here knowledge is understood as a mode of understanding and co-ordinating innovative insights and strategically appropriate behaviours (Lorenz, 2001). The R&D context is particularly germane because it is an exploratory activity to which the structured and repetitive nature of quality systems appears somewhat antithetical. Yet, R&D activity involves investigating what might be known in order to transform it in strategically beneficial ways. So whatever the quality of imaginative exploration, the resulting insight needs to be embedded into wider organisational routines in order to deliver sustainable competitiveness (Bossink et al., 1992; Lyons et al., 2008). It is in integrating insight, procedure and performance that quality systems are deemed potentially most effective. Evidence of the effectiveness of quality systems within R&D comes from a variety of sources. Miller (1995) conducted a quality study in R&D units of 45 large international firms and concluded that “not only is the quality movement applicable to R&D but it brings a new mindset to the task of effectively managing R&D” (Miller, 1995, p. 51). This new mindset has delivered benefits to a number of firms. For example, Eastman Kodak's Research Organisation showed a continuous upward growth with research output and competitive advantage from innovation showing marked improvements through institutionalising Total Quality Management (TQM) practices (Munir and Philips, 2005). AT&T reported that within a two-year period of quality system implementation the product development cycle for their software was reduced by 50% with an associated ten-fold decrease in faults found by customers (Endres, 1997). Survey results of several leading US R&D organisations also claim a positive response to using quality systems in R&D environments. This suggests that a majority of firms have “not only maintained but actually accelerated implementation of quality processes” in order to effect further improvements (Davidson and Pruden, 1996, p. 52). More recently, using case study evidence from a number of R&D organisations operating in the UK, Jayawarna and Pearson, 2002 and Jayawarna and Pearson, 2003 commented on the benefits for R&D organisations in combining formal quality standards with improvement initiatives at the project, process and strategic levels. Based on empirical data from 194 Australian R&D Organisations, Prajogo and Sohal (2006) showed the benefits of integrating Total Quality Management and Innovation Management systems. TQM practices are highly effective in building various capabilities within R&D and these capabilities go beyond supporting product quality to include process innovation and learning (Prajogo and Hong, 2008). Notwithstanding the reported improvements, there is little empirical evidence for the contribution quality systems make to activities that reproduce and transform R&D knowledge. Moreover, where evidence does exist, as in the cases above, it veers towards an association of growth patterns and R&D investment levels, rather than any qualitative analysis of the potentially creative R&D activities themselves (Patino, 1997). Moreover, there is much in the way of contrary evidence suggesting that R&D and related service functions are the last activities within an organisation to be touched by quality concerns (Berson and Linton, 2006). As these authors go on to say, even where quality systems are used there is often discrepancy from those measures used in manufacturing or sales. May and Pearson (1993) noted that while some characteristics of R&D make it a natural arena for quality systems application, others mean that it requires careful tailoring and customising. We argue that gaining a richer and more critical understanding of the use of quality systems within a knowledge-intensive environment requires a more critical awareness of the character of the knowledge being reproduced and transformed (Lyons et al., 2008; Yang, 2008). Using case study analyses of seven technology-based R&D organisations in the UK, this paper therefore aims to: (1) explore the experience and use of quality systems within R&D organisations and (2) understand how these systems promote and/or discourage knowledge exploration and exploitation. The paper is structured as follows. It begins with a review of literature associated with knowledge and R&D activities. The methods adopted in this research are then discussed and this is followed by presentation of the data. The analysis of these data is then presented with reference to a four-fold typology of knowledge. We finish the paper with a discussion of the findings, implications for stakeholders and direction for future research.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
This research has identified a number of quality management practices that support or discourage the knowledge creation and transformation processes within an R&D context. Previous empirical research has established the importance of effective utilisation of quality management within R&D. However, there are reservations about the successful use of quality systems in R&D due to the inherent tacitness, complexity and consequent causal ambiguity of the activity (Choo et al., 2007; Prajogo and Hong, 2008). In the current literature there was very little empirical evidence related to the contribution quality systems make to the exploration and exploitation of R&D knowledge. We began by discussing the importance of knowledge exploration and exploitation, and how quality systems help integrate insight, procedures and firm performance. We argued that R&D activity was a particularly interesting activity in this respect given the emphasis on innovation rather than repetitive manufacturing. Using work by Rheinberger (1997), we suggested R&D was characterized much like a scientific laboratory. There was an established set of procedures, skills and norms that made up the technical knowledge by which R&D employees searched for illusive but potentially innovatory knowledge which following Rheinberger we termed epistemic. To make epistemic knowledge strategically relevant by ensuring it contributes to wider firm performance any quality system should attend to the manner in which the creation of innovatory knowledge and the potential for using that knowledge is located, provisional, communicated and pragmatic. Using case data from seven R&D departments of large firms we found the experience of using quality systems to be varied. The routines associated with epistemic exploration and the development of technical skills to explore and exploit knowledge were not easily reduced to a “body” or “set” of generally applicable structures. A number of reasons for and against using quality systems in R&D emerged from the data analysis and these were summarised using the four-fold typology of knowledge in Table 3.In addition to its theoretical contribution to knowledge management and quality management literature, this paper offers several implications for those responsible for managing knowledge in R&D. Perhaps the most successful aspect of using quality systems in R&D inquiry was in assisting communication; it acted as a “talking cure”. R&D managers found that quality systems enabled them to better understand the expectations of customers. In turn, the systems enabled the R&D department and the firm itself to demonstrate commitment and reputation to their customers. Communicative benefits were also experienced in terms of more efficient patent application and a greater awareness of product liability issues. Related to these benefits of communication the attested benefits of engaging with customers come as stakeholders. Experiences such as the effective utilisation of customer feedback, pro-active strategies to meet changing customer requirements, effective handling of customer inquiry, and making the compliance status visible to customers are all attributed to the adoption of quality systems. On the down side, communication was felt to be hampered by the often confusing and complex procedural systems that required a new and abstract language. In terms of the nature of knowledge being experienced, it was largely of a technical nature, involving the skills and procedures by which R&D activity was conducted, and the results translated back into the firm. The bureaucratic overload was experienced as an imposition of technical knowledge from a different context, creating an “us and them” feeling across departments and localities. Although it allowed employees and others from different locales to formally become aware of one anothers’ language, the attempt to bring this about by the use of a common language proved only partially successful (Yang, 2008). Analysis of where technical problems were emerging became possible (which points in the system), but less was known as to why they existed because the language was target driven rather than analytical. Here, again, the “knowledge” was largely technical, rooted in attempts to better clarify roles, streamline information flows and isolate responsibility. This systematic clarity did assist firms in part to integrate R&D activities with wider firm concerns. Those not possessing ISO quality accreditation cited the very lack of process discipline and commonly understood procedural frameworks as a cause of re-work, project variation and a failure to make effective use of their good practice knowledge. Yet these firms were also typically the ones willing to allow the R&D departments a degree of latitude in designing quality procedures that were then accounted for by their users. Frustrated managers were typically those working with systems that imposed pre-given “solutions” taken from elsewhere. In this pragmatic vein, the experience of inquiry more generally was brought to the fore with a concern for how epistemic knowledge generated by research activity might potentially be exploited in strategically relevant ways. Perhaps the most resistance to quality systems came from the recognition of the contested quality of knowledge. Here the emphasis was on the epistemic nature of what was being produced, the potential behind new insights, and how this potential was limited by attempts to impose strict target conformity. What was valued about quality systems was the manner in which they could be used to facilitate a sense of collective endeavour when undertaking knowledge exploration rather than stipulate particular targets. More generally, we found that where quality systems were used in an R&D context they were more successful when users were minded of the nature of inquiry. We have conceptualised the nature of this inquiry as the developing skills to conduct searches for epistemic knowledge (exploration) as well as the procedures to embed the resulting innovation in strategically relevant ways. It is when quality systems err toward the technical conception of knowledge as something that is fixed rather than, in addition, being something contested and epistemic, that they run the risk of failure. Understanding the ways in which knowledge was localised, provisional, communicated and pragmatically focussed assists in such recognition. Certainly many of the R&D managers felt without the ability to create bespoke systems there was a deadening effect on the capacity to explore and in some cases even exploit knowledge.