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Applied Research Essay

5284 words - 22 pages



Applied Research Methods

Applied Research Methods


Successful product development requires managing tensions--coping with fluctuating contingencies to foster innovation and efficiency. To investigate this challenge, we explored the nature, dynamics, and impacts of contrasting project management styles. Our conceptual framework details emergent and planned styles. Following 80 projects over two-year periods, we find that these styles offer disparate but interwoven approaches to monitoring, evaluation, and control ...view middle of the document...

This literature highlights the tensions surrounding product development: project managers must cope with multiple--and often conflicting and fluctuating--contingencies as they seek to foster innovation and efficiency. Yet critics also note the limitations of a contingency approach (e.g., Dougherty, 2004, 433; Pennings, 2002, 130-38). To make sense of seemingly conflicting findings, researchers need more encompassing theoretical frameworks. Such frameworks might enable insights into how managers adjust their behaviours and organizations to changing contingencies. From a practical standpoint, however, contingency studies need greater precision. By virtue of operating at high levels of analysis, research often lacks an action orientation and offers limited managerial guidance.

Quinn (2000, 86-90) proposed an alternative approach that may foster simultaneously broad and detailed understandings of management. He claimed that researchers might extend contingency studies by examining more general managerial capabilities or styles. Management style denotes an underlying mode of thinking and behaving that in turn promotes a specific repertoire of actions that managers draw upon in contexts of varying complexity and uncertainty. Historically, the research literature has polarized management styles, framing them in terms such as convergent/divergent thinking, transactional/ transformational leadership, theory X/theory Y. Likewise, product development researchers often stress divergence between an emergent and a planned style. Some advocate an emergent, fluid style of management as a means to foster creativity and improvisation (e.g., Doughtery, 2002; Moorman & Miner, 2002, 1-20). Others prescribe disciplined planning as a way to focus and speed project efforts (Zirger & Maidique, 2005, 867-83). Yet proponents of both styles also recognize the need for balance. Case studies richly depict the interplay of emergent and planned styles (e.g., Jelinek & Schoonhoven, 2005, 55-60). Laufer's (2001, 144-49) case collection, for example, illustrates how exceptional project managers are capable of moving iteratively between contrasting styles in response to contending demands.

To date, however, product development literature lacks clear conceptualizations and corresponding measures of project management styles. Indeed, Dougherty (2004, 430-34) called for constructs that capture the tensions of product development. Prescriptions for emergent and planned styles may reflect these tensions. Rather than another normative model, researchers need measures that help assess disparate, but potentially complementary, ways of managing. She also argued that more effective constructs would build from the activities of project management. Identifying varied approaches to specific managerial activities would enhance research precision and relevance. Without such constructs, researchers and practitioners are left questioning the nature, dynamics, and impacts of...

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