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Concurrent Collaboration in Research and Development

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DECON 2008 – National Conference of Design and Concurrent Engineering
Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka
28-29 Oktober 2008
Concurrent Collaboration in Research and Development
Nader Ale Ebrahim, Shamsuddin Ahmed and Zahari Taha,
Department of Engineering Design and Manufacture,
Faculty of Engineering, University of Malaya
Phone: ë17-3942458, Fax: ë7967-5330, Email: aleebrahim@perdana.um.edu.my
Abstract – Integration is the essence of current research and
development (R&D) activity in many organizations. Integration
can be established in various ways depending on the type, size and
intricacy in organizational functions and products. Nevertheless,
research and development (R&D) has become an inevitable
function in most manufacturing companies in order to develop
their own product niches for their survival in the prevailing highly
completive market environment. Research and development
functions are fundamental drivers of value creation in technologybased
enterprises. Of creating and maintaining a vibrant R&D
environment, organizations individually or collectively need to
incorporate virtual R&D team. A virtual R&D team can introduce
new product in less lead time than by conventional R&D working.
Therefore, how to increase the possibility of having more
successful R&D is a critical issue for enterprises. This paper
examines the current approach of collaboration in R&D issues
from the perspective of their impact on virtual R&D team in
enterprises and compares the findings with the other concepts of
concurrent collaboration. By reviewing literature and theories, the
paper firstly presents the definition and characteristics of virtual
R&D teams. A comparison of different types of virtual R&D teams
along with the strengths and limitations of the preceding studies in
this area are also presented. It is observed that most of the
research activities encourage and support virtual R&D teams
applicable to enterprises. Distinctive benefits of establishing
virtual R&D team have been enumerated and demand future
attention has been indicated in the paper.
Keywords – Research and Development; Virtual team; Concurrent
Collaboration;
I. INTRODUCTION
International collaboration in research and
development (R&D) is becoming increasingly important in
creating the knowledge that makes research and business
more competitive. Organizations are currently facing critical
and unprecedented challenges in an ever dynamic, constantly
changing and complex business environment [1]. All types of
economic activities are moving in the direction of
globalization [2]. From the other direction, the growing
internationalization of R&D activities challenges
multinational corporations (MNCs) to formulate technology
strategies and manage increasingly diffused and assorted
networks of R&D laboratories and alliances in the context of
disparate national institutions [3]. By the emergence of the
increasing de-centralization and globalization of work
processes, many organizations have responded to their
dynamic environments by introducing virtual teams.
Additionally, the rapid development of new communication
technologies such as the Internet has accelerated this trend so
that today, many large organizations employ virtual teams to
some degree or other [4]. Considering that R&D teams need
to access and retrieve information from as many sources as
possible [5], virtual teams are important mechanisms for
organizations seeking to leverage over scarce resources
across geographic and other boundaries. [6].
With the rapid development of electronic
information and communication media in the last decades,
distributed work has become much easier, faster and more
efficient [4]. Now global communication is so much easier,
faster and cheaper, therefore managing and integrating
geographically dispersed R&D has considerably increased
[7]. It’s a widely held belief that the modern work-world is
dominated by computer-mediated communication, and this
communication is the bread and butter of virtual teams [8].
As another milestone phenomenon, over the last few
decades, R&D teams have become increasingly virtual [9].
The main advantage of implementing a geographically
dispersed R&D network structure is the ability to tap
selectively into center of excellence [10]. To shrink the cost
and protract the length of total system and product
development life cycles, many organizations have moved
away from serial to concurrent collaboration through the use
of cross-functional, integrated project/product teams [11].
Virtual teams were formed to facilitate transnational
innovation processes [12] and it should be noted that
innovation has a positive impact on corporate performance
[5]. Also a virtual network structure is used to improve
communication and coordination, and encourage the mutual
sharing of inter-organizational resources and competencies
[13].The growing complexity and competition in the business
world are major drivers for increasing the popularity and
formation of virtual teams [14].
Concurrent collaboration in research and
development has been described in different ways with
various implications. One the most important issue is virtual
R&D team that is focused in this paper from the point of its
useful definition and characteristics, strengths and limitations
as well as diversity.
II. VIRTUAL R&D TEAMS
It is worth mentioning that virtual teams are often formed
to overcome geographical or temporal separations [15].
Virtual teams work across boundaries of time and space by
utilizing modern computer-driven technologies. The term
“virtual team” is used to cover a wide range of activities and
forms of technology-supported working [16]. Simple
transmission of information from point A to point B is not
enough; the virtual environment presents significant
challenges to effective communication [8]. Gassmann and
Von Zedtwitz [12] defined “virtual team as a group of people
and sub-teams who interact through interdependent tasks
guided by common purpose and work across links
strengthened by information, communication, and transport
technologies.” From the perspective of Leenders et al. [17]virtual teams are groups of individuals collaborating in the
execution of a specific project while geographically and often
temporally distributed, possibly anywhere within (and
beyond) their parent organization. Amongst the different
definitions of the concept of a virtual team the following from
is one of the most widely accepted: Powell et al. [18], ‘‘we
define virtual teams as groups of geographically,
organizationally and/or time dispersed workers brought
together by information technologies to accomplish one or
more organization tasks ’’
III. DIFFERENT TYPES OF VIRTUAL R&D TEAMS
Generally, we can differentiate various forms of “virtual”
work depending on the number of persons involved and the
degree of interaction between them. The first is “telework”
(telecommuting) which is done partially or completely
outside of the main company workplace with the aid of
information and telecommunication services. ”Virtual
groups“exist when several teleworkers are combined and
each member reports to the same manager. In contrast, a
“virtual team” exists when the members of a virtual group
interact with each other in order to accomplish common
goals. Finally, “virtual communities” are larger entities of
distributed work in which members participate via the
Internet, guided by common purposes, roles and norms. In
contrast to virtual teams, virtual communities are not
implemented within an organizational structure but are
usually initiated by some of their members. Examples of
virtual communities are Open Source software projects [4].
Computer mediated collaborations (CMC) is also used to
encompass asynchronous interactions through a collaborative
workspace, as well as e-mail, instant messaging, and
synchronous interactions using a system that incorporates
desktop videoconferencing, shared workspace, chat and other
features [19]. Extended enterprise concept in parallel with the
concurrent enterprising looks for how to add value to the
product by incorporating to it knowledge and expertise
coming from all participants on the product value chain [20].
Teleworking is viewed as an alternative way to organize
work that involves the complete or partial use of ICT to
enable workers to get access to their labor activities from
different and remote locations [21]. One of the basic ideas of
concurrent engineering needed for product design and
development is to assemble a team that is focused on
developing or redesigning a product [11]. Concurrent
engineering is a conceptual methodology that enables all who
are impacted by the product design to have early access to
design information and have the ability to influence the final
design to identify and prevent future problems and it is
different from virtual team working.
Cascio and Shurygailo [15] have clarified the difference
between by classifying virtual teams with respect to two
primary variables namely, the number of location (one or
more) and the number of managers (one or more) Table 1
illustrates this graphically. Therefore there are four categories
of teams:
• Teleworkers: A single manager of a team at one
location
• Remote team: A single manager of a team
distributed across multiple location
• Matrixed teleworkers: Multiple manager of a team at
one location
• Matrixed remote teams: Multiple managers across
multiple locations

Table 1: Forms of Virtual Teams (source: Cascio and Shurygailo, 2003)
Managers
One Multiple
Locati
ons
One Telework
ers
Matrixed
Teleworkers
Multi
ple
Remote
Team
Matrixed Remote
Teams
The statistics show that teleworking is more frequent
among information-intensive activities like software
development. But it is not so frequent among other activities
in new product development [21].
IV. DIVERSE CONCERN OF VIRTUAL TEAMS
As a drawback, virtual teams are particularly vulnerable to
mistrust, communication break downs, conflicts, and power
struggles [22]. On the other hand, virtual teams reduce timeto-
market [23]. Lead Time or Time to market has been
generally admitted to be one of the most important keys for
success in manufacturing companies [20]. Table 2
summarizes some of the main advantages and disadvantages
associated with virtual teaming [24]. Anderson et al. [16]suggest that the effective use of communication, especially
during the early stages of the team’s development, plays an
equally important role in gaining and maintaining trust.
Virtual teams are useful for projects that require crossfunctional
or cross boundary skilled inputs and the key to
their value creation is to have a defined strategy in place to
overcome the issues highlighted, especially the time zones
and cultural issues. While communication could be seen as a
traditional team issue, the problem is magnified by distance,
cultural diversity and language or accent difficulties. For
migration or similar large-scale projects, personal project
management competency, appropriate use of technology and
networking ability, willingness for self-management, cultural
and interpersonal awareness is fundamentals of a successful
virtual team [25]. Virtual team may allow people to
collaborate more productivity at a distance, but the tripe to
coffee corner or across the hallway to a trusted colleague is
still the most reliable and effective way to review and revise a
new idea [26]. Face-to-face collaboration (FFC) appears to be
better suited for relatively unstructured discussion, intensive
tasks, such as developing a conceptual understanding of a
problem or evaluating key ideas and negotiating how to
proceed, in contrast those tasks that lend themselves to a
structured approach are most effectively accomplished during
computer-mediated collaboration (CMC) [19]. A potential
advantage of virtual teams is their ability to digitally or
electronically unite experts in highly specialized fields
working at great distances from each other [22].
Table 2: some of the main advantages and disadvantages associated with
virtual teaming (source: Bergiel et al., 2008).
Advantages Disadvantages
Reduces travel time and
cost
Sometimes requires
complex technological
applications
Enables the recruitment
of talented employees
Lack of knowledge
among employees about
virtual teams and
subsequent, there is the
need for HRD (Human
Resource Development)
interventions
Promotes different areas Lack of knowledge
among some senior mature
managers concerning
advanced technological
applications
Builds diverse teams Not an option for every
type of employee because
of an employee’s
psychological make-up and
other predispositions
Assists in promoting
proactive employment
practices for disadvantaged
individuals and groups
Nor an option for every
company because of the
operational environment
Reduces discrimination
Virtual teams are significantly different from traditional
teams. In the proverbial traditional team, the members work
next to one another, while in virtual teams they work in
different locations. In traditional teams the coordination of
tasks is straightforward and performed by the members of the
team together; in virtual teams, in contrast, tasks must be
much more highly structured. Also, virtual teams rely on
electronic communication, as opposed to face-to-face
communication in traditional teams. Table3 summarizes these
distinctions [27].
Table3: Virtual and traditional R&D teams are usually viewed as opposites.
Fully Traditional Team Fully Virtual Team
Team members all colocated.
Team members all in
different locations.
Team members
communicate face-to-face
(i.e., synchronous and
personal)
Team members
communicate through
asynchronous and apersonal
means.
Team members
coordinate team task
together, in mutual
adjustment.
The team task is so highly
structured that coordination
by team members is rarely
necessary.
In particular, reliance on computer-mediated
communication makes virtual teams unique from traditional
ones [6].
The joint work is intended to attain the following
beneficial objectives [28].
• to minimize the number of parts and operations;
• to ensure that process capabilities are known, and
that the design either falls within these
parameters or that there is enough time to
improve and acquire new capabilities as needed;
• to use standard procedures, materials, and processes
of already known and proven quality;
• to design multifunctional and multi-use components
and modules;
• to design for ease of joining, separating, and
rejoining;
• to design for one-way assembly;
• to avoid delicate designs requiring extraordinary
effort or attentiveness .
Yip and Dempster [29] in their study realized that Perhaps
the most important lesson is that the Internet helps companies
to be both global and local at the same time. It is possible to
derive the virtual teams substitute with internet. The internet
can facilitate the collaboration of different people who are
involved in product development, increase the speed and the
quality of new product testing and validation and improve the
effectiveness and the efficiency of product development and
launch [21]. Rice et al. [19] found that the adoption of formal
procedures and structured processes significantly increased
the effectiveness of virtual teams. Arranz and Arroyabe [30]point out that geographical dimension is not a variable that
impacts substantially on the typology and objectives of R&D
cooperation, in contrast with the results highlighted in the
literature review that they have done. Virtual teams have
more effective R&D continuation decisions than face-to-face
teams because virtual team has asynchronous communication
and it allows for more time for digestion and reduces the
pressure of group conformity [31]. Distributed teams can
carry out critical tasks with appropriate decision support
technologies [14].
V. CONCLUDING REMARKS
In the rapidly changing environment on which the
emergence of new technologically complex products is being
witnessed every day gaining the knowhow and the right
knowledge for keeping pace with the rate and intensity of
change has become an inevitable necessity. There has been
increasing pressure on enterprises to enhance their chances of
survival in the turbulent and changing environments. Virtual
teams bring about knowledge spillovers within enterprises
bridging time and place; therefore the decision on setting up
virtual teams is not a choice but a requirement. The
globalization of and the new waves of global trends in
economy, services and business along with advances in
telecommunications technology have paved the way for the
formation and the performance of virtual teams.
The literature so far has not paid adequate attention to the
virtual R&D team activities in enterprises. While reviewing
the preceding studies, it’s believed that the advantages of
working on the basis of virtual teams far outweigh the
disadvantages.
The industrial consultants should aim to teach their
customer/managers not only new management techniques but
also the skill of applying the virtual team concept in R&D.
The government should encourage local firms to build up
their virtual R&D team with the relevant enterprises. The
benefit of establishing virtual R&D team has been made quite
apparent by this paper and demand future attention.
VI. REFERENCES
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About the Author

Nader Ale Ebrahim is Technology Management PhD candidate in the Department of Engineering Design and Manufacture, Faculty of Engineering, University of Malaya (UM), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He holds a Master of Science in the mechanical engineering from University of Tehran, Iran.

Concurrent Collaboration in Research and Development – Article Submission – SEO Scores

About The Author

Nader Ale Ebrahim is Technology Management PhD candidate in the Department of Engineering Design and Manufacture, Faculty of Engineering, University of Malaya. He holds a Master of Science in the mechanical engineering from University of Tehran with distinguished honors, as well as more than 17 years experience in the establishing R&D department in different companies, project director and project coordinator and Knowledge based system implementation in R&D department. His current research interests are focused on managing virtual new product development teams in SMEs R&D centers. His papers/articles have presented in the several Journals and conferences.

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