Monday, November 21, 2011

SOSA Manuel, GARGIULO Martin, ROWLES Craig
Informal Communication Networks and the Attention to Technical Interfaces in Complex Product Development
INSEAD Working Paper 2011/119/TOM/OB revised version of 2010/91/TOM/OB

The development of complex products poses substantial operational and organizational challenges to established firms. Previous research has shown that coordinating technical interfaces is vital for the successful development of complex products. Despite the presence of formal organizational structure mechanisms designed to facilitate the attendance to interfaces, informal cross-team communications is one of the most widely used coordination mechanisms during the development of complex systems. We study how the structure of such cross-team communication networks relates to the teams’ ability to coordinate their technical interfaces. We show that an effective examination of the role of social networks requires that we recognize the dual role played by teams when coordinating their technical interfaces with other teams: each directional technical interface has an acquirer and provider of technical information during the design process. We examine how the presence of common third-party teams (i.e., communication partners common to both the acquirer and the provider) influences not only the motivation of acquirer teams to seek interface-related information but also the likelihood of provider teams responding to interface-related requests. We test our hypotheses by examining the network of components of a large commercial aircraft engine and the technical communication network structure of the organization that designs it. We find that the probability of attending to a technical interface decreases when the acquirer team can obtain information about that interface from communication partners it shares with the provider team, whereas such probability increases when the provider team shares many communication partners with the acquirer team and the interface is a critical one.