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Inter-organizational coordination patterns in buyer-supplier-design agency triads in NPD projects

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– The purpose of this paper is to investigate inter-organizational coordination (IOC) patterns between the buying firm, design agency, and component supplier in new product development (NPD) projects and to identify the determinants of these approaches.


– Seven NPD projects are examined using the multiple-case study method. Data are collected from five design agencies, two buying firms, and two suppliers in Italy and the Netherlands.


– Building on organizational information-processing and resource dependence theories, and based on the case study findings, four patterns of IOC approaches are proposed: buyer as mediator, buyer-designer partnership, designer as integrator, and team design activities. Two determinants of these approaches are suggested: the degree of novelty of the product/project (radical vs incremental) and the design approach (user oriented vs design driven).

Research limitations/implications

– Although the NPD projects are chosen from a wide variety of industries, the relatively small number of cases limits generalizability. The four IOC approaches proposed in this study should be tested in wider samples, possibly by means of the survey method.

Practical implications

– The findings suggest that practitioners need to understand the determinants of the different IOC approaches to manage joint NPD projects most effectively. The authors also suggest that practitioners pay attention to the distinct roles of different types of suppliers while deciding on the appropriate coordination mechanisms to adopt. Finally, the results illustrate that buying firms need to consider empowering a supplier in an incremental NPD project if the supplier has a very distinctive capability that does not exist in the buying firm.


– Previous research primarily focusses on dyadic-level buyer-supplier relationships in NPD projects. In this study, the authors adopt triads as the unit of analysis and specifically focus on cases that involve both component suppliers and design agencies.
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Keywords: Case study; Coordination; Design; New product development; Triads

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands 2: Studio Ianniello, Rome, Italy

Publication date: November 2, 2015

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