Managing uncertain, complex product development in high-tech firms: in search of controlled flexibility

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This paper investigates ways of managing complexity and uncertainty in R&D simultaneously. Previous research on the subject indicates that these dimensions require different approaches, but these studies tend to provide suggestions either on managing complexity in stable industries or on handling uncertainty in less complex projects. In this paper, the two dimensions are studied simultaneously in three commercial product development projects at a firm that may be viewed as an extreme case of complexity and with multiple dimensions of uncertainty. The paper illustrates that a critical issue in this kind of high-tech development is the search for and development of approaches that integrate and balance needs for formal organizational control with high levels of project flexibility. Four key elements of such integrated approaches are identified: hybrid formal systems, structured interaction in public arenas, transparent visual communication tools, and a system of participative reflection.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Management and Engineering, Linköping University, SE-58183 Linköping, Sweden. ;, Email:

Publication date: September 1, 2010

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