Groupware and teamwork in new product development: The case of a consumer goods multinational, CU Ciborra, G Patriotta

Tags: development, technology, IPM, project, Unilever, competitive environment, development process, technologies, Orlikowski, infoculture, infostructure, communication tools, Claudio U. Ciborra, organizational knowledge, global levels, innovation process, structure, organizational boundaries, system designers, central units, Kim Clark, product development project, development projects, development project, technological innovation, project management system, decision making process, local companies, product development process, product development, communication
Content: GROUPWARE AND TEAMWORK IN NEW PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT THE CASE OF A CONSUMER GOODS MULTINATIONAL Claudio U. Ciborra and Gerardo Patriotta 1. INTRODUCTION In a competitive environment that is global, intense and dynamic, the development of new products and processes is increasingly becoming a focal point of competition (Clark and Wheelright, 1993). Firms able to get to the market faster and more efficiently with products which are well matched to the needs and expectations of the customer have significant competitive advantage. In order to cope with this kind of environment many organizations are attempting to transform their structures and processes through teamwork, global integration and networking.(Ciborra, 1993; Orlikowski et al., 1995) New communication technologies such as e-mail, computer conferencing and groupware can play a strategic role since they provide companies with platforms that operate on a global scale by connecting users dispersed over the organizational networks. Furthermore, by "textualizing" work (Zuboff, 1988) and rendering it transparent the electronic networks open up new possibilities for reducing barriers to communication, and sharing organizational knowledge. To be sure, with network technologies the organizational local and global levels are far more interwoven than simple, hierarchical models would suggest. As the distinction between centre and periphery tends to fade, organizational boundaries become virtual and users, in shaping the way technology is actually deployed (De Certeau, 1988), can play on and dwell in the creative ambiguity and the "interpretative flexibility" (Orlikowski, 1992) allowed by the complexity of the networks. In order to capture such complexity and its dynamics, we can look at it as characterized by multiple physical, organizational and social features. In this perspective, echoing Bressand and Distler's (1995) terminology, it is possible to detect in any network three distinct analytical levels: - an infrastructure which establishes the physical/communicational contact between the members of the network. The infrastructure refers to the material side of a technology and includes the different configurations of hardware and software; - an infostructure, that is a set of formal rules which govern the exchange between the actors present on the network. The infostructure is designed according to the needs of the 1
organization in which it is introduced. It also serves as a framework to construct frames by providing a set of structuring cognitive resources (metaphors, common language and idiosyncrasies, syntax), whereby people make sense of events within the network. The infostructure embodies a schematic representation of the organization and its activities, expressed in the form of access privileges, boundaries of various kind, building blocks and categories through which knowledge and information are organized; - an infoculture, that is "shared objectives and mutual expectations on the basis of which members can agree upon joint projects for which network resources will be then mobilized" (Bressand and Distler, 1995). The infoculture represents a sort of meta level including "the rules governing changes of rules". Specifically, it concerns the stock of background knowledge which actors take for granted and enact in their daily use of the network. The infoculture embeds the social web within which work takes place, expressed by the narratives, war stories and social relations of the members involved. By imposing social constraints to knowledge and information, the infoculture sets a path for the processes of learning and sense-making and the construction of a shared understanding of specific situations. We take into account these three analytical levels to analyze the implementation of a new groupware system based on Lotus Notes as a technology to support the product innovation process at Unilever, Italy1. The study explores the complex interplay between the new technology, the pre-existing organizational context and the users' practices, 1 The main activity context for our inquiry was Unilever's dental Innovation Centre which is located in Milan, Italy and is responsible for the world-wide co-ordination of the development of new products in the category of oral care. The study was conducted during the first semester of 1995. Data was gathered during three one-day visits to the plant and four visits to the headquarters. About twenty people were interviewed at their workplace. They included a variety of profiles ranging from designers of the new information system to those responsible for the work teams, and managers of various functions. Fifteen hours of open interviews were recorded on tapes. A pre-structured questionnaire was submitted to world-wide users of Lotus Notes via e-mail. Additional informal conversations took place throughout the firm and were not recorded. 2
showing how the interaction between these three elements gradually leads to the structuration and institutionalization of the new system. From the users' point of view our focus is on the process of "appropriation" of the new system and, more in general, on the learning dynamics related to the introduction of a new co-operative work organization. From an organizational perspective, we analyze how the adoption of the new technology affects the existing institutional setting and how emerging organizational properties are reflected in the new system. This vision follows the assumption that technology embodies, and is an instantiation of, some of the rules and resources constituting the structure of the organization (Giddens, 1984; Orlikowski, 1992; Ciborra and Lanzara, 1994). Since our study was carried out during an early stage of introduction of the new system, we had the opportunity to observe a situation of transition and uncertainty, where the interplay between technology and organization was described by the users as an "open match". The findings highlight the essential nature of groupware technologies as a "public good" (Olson, 1971), the effectiveness of which depends upon the users' willingness to act collectively and the existence, or the emergence, of a sense of belonging to the network (Varela, 1989). In this respect, an inverse relationship seems to emerge between infostructure and infoculture, that is, the higher the sense perceived by the users of belonging to the network (the infoculture), the lower the need on the part of the organization to structure it (the infostructure), and vice versa. When applied to our case this inverse relationship reveals a paradox. At Unilever, the overlapping of different organizational forms and the resistance coming from the users, force the company to structure the new system by adding boundaries and limitations to it. The more the system is structured, the more it becomes rigid and formalised. As a result, the logic of the Lotus Notes applications, which had been originally conceived as tools to improve flexibility and collaborative work, gets severely diluted. The case study is structured as follows. A general description of the innovation process at Unilever and important issues related to changes in the company strategy are outlined in section 2. Specifically, we present the concept of the innovation funnel as a methodology for generating and structuring new ideas, and describe the new, collaborative information system supporting the management of the work flow and team's activities. Next, we discuss the main findings, focusing on the problems related to the interaction between the new technology and the surrounding organization, detected through our observation and analysis. In the final section, we draw together some conclusions about the structuration and institutionalization of collaborative technologies. 3
2. MANAGING NEW PRODUCT AND PROCESS DEVELOPMENT AT UNILEVER 2.1 General Unilever runs today one of the largest consumer businesses in the world, with its corporate centres located in London and Rotterdam. Unilever's business is structured in four core product areas. The greater part of the company's activity is in branded and packaged consumer goods, primarily foods, detergents and personal products. The group's other major activity is in speciality chemicals. Over 1000 successful brands are marketed by Unilever companies world-wide and many of them are international market leaders. The total sales generated by this range of activities puts Unilever among the top industrial companies in the world. Measured by net profit, the company ranks number 15 in the 1994 Fortune List. Unilever employs about 304, 000 people and provides a wide range of products and services in over 80 countries. Most of the company's sales (53%) are in Europe. North America accounts for (20%) and the remainder is spread across the rest of the world. Although still predominantly centred in Europe, Unilever's business outside Europe is growing fast. This growth comes partly from expanding existing operations, acquisitions and, in a number of cases, through joint ventures. In a competitive environment characterised by the presence of hard discounts (low quality products, poor technology, low prices) and of major competitors like Procter & Gamble and Colgate, one of the basic strategies of Unilever since the beginning of the '90s has been to reach the market with high quality products and reduce lead times. Specifically, in order to face the new market forces, the company decided to implement a new innovation process based on a global strategy for each product category. This necessitated structuring the firm's activities around new strategic concepts and making effective use of human, organisational and technological resources, in order to improve the overall performance. In operational terms, the new strategy implied global consumer understanding, adoption of leading edge technologies, global competitor knowledge, master brand development 4
and higher priority in research activities. The need for developing new products on a global basis, forced the company to implement a number of important changes. From an organizational point of view, each core product division has been structured into Innovation Centres (ICs) responsible for the world-wide co-ordination of a specific product category. The lead Innovation Centre for the oral care category is attached to Unilever's personal products company based in the outskirts of Milan. The Centre was established in 1992 to manage Unilever's dental care business and co-ordinate it on a world-wide scale. Interacting with Milan are a further five Centres (regional ICs) in Arabia, Brazil, India, Indonesia and the U.S., each with its own development unit. The role of the dental IC is multi-stranded. In strategic terms it facilitates fine grained planning and global co-ordination of Unilever's dental care strategy. Secondly, it acts as a listening post for ideas from within the company, i.e. it provides the opportunity to think about new ideas, stimulating and legitimating participation from the periphery. It also offers a framework for longer term thinking, thus enabling the company to manage a portfolio of ideas to be launched in the future. Last but not least, it avoids the duplication between operating companies which have their own development units and gives a more consumer-focused basis to research. This allows the central unit to absorb marketable ideas from operating companies and to accelerate their implementation around the world. If an idea is good and has global potential, then the IC will put the resources needed behind it, allocate a dedicated project manager and development team, and support it with an appropriate research programme. Today, new products are jointly developed by cross functional and transnational teams through a process of continuous exchange between members dispersed all over the world. This requires a global method for generating alternative ideas, by taking inputs from different sources and eventually structuring them through a screening process which transforms a project into a product ready to be shipped to the marketplace. The "innovation funnel" provides such a method to structure the work flow by picturing the advancement of a project through the various phases of development. At Unilever the idea of the innovation funnel has been combined with a technological platform based on Lotus Notes (LN) applications. The platform can be seen as a shared work space, that supports both teamwork and the management of work flow. Thanks to Notes the work flow is transformed into a text and made visible to everyone involved in the development of a new product. Every actor concerned is thus connected to the same funnel (text) and can actively intervene as a project evolves over time. Today, then, a new product is the outcome of a collective effort. Unfortunately, coordination on a large scale gives rise to problems and causes friction along the funnel. To anticipate, the transparency and openness of the system tend to discourage people's 5
commitment and foster opportunistic behaviours; the incentive system is questioned, too. The decision making process is strongly impacted as decisions are now based on collective rationality: they are made by people often working at a distance and belonging to different cultures. The relationship between centre and periphery is affected as well: on the one hand, the regional ICs are involved in a larger network; on the other hand, they lose part of their autonomy and responsibility with respect to the central authority. All these issues seem to indicate that the introduction of the technological innovation is far from being frictionless, since it impacts the broader formative context (Ciborra and Lanzara, 1994) within which the firm performs its main activities. The infoculture, i.e. the tacit and unspecified knowledge base governing the execution of daily tasks and routines, is questioned by the infostructure. Mismatches between the pre-existing formative context and the practices enacted daily by the users generate more or less unexpectedly dysfunctions in the overall performance of new product development. As a consequence, the infostructure is made more rigid by management and this leads to an underutilization of the infrastructure. Before analyzing these findings in more detail, we need to spend more time describing the main features of the funnel and the relevant groupware applications. 2.2 The innovation funnel The aim of any product development project is to take an idea from concept to reality by converging towards a specific product that can meet the market needs in an economical, manufacturable form (Clark and Wheelright, 1993). The innovation funnel is a tool developed by Professor Kim Clark and his colleagues at Harvard University which offers a structured means of managing innovation, from concept to launch. In a marketing oriented organization like Unilever, the typical approach to innovation has been one of great creativity, but with a certain lack of discipline and structure. A common way to picture the situation prior to the introduction of the new method was to say: "We do not have funnels, we have tunnels", meaning that there was no effective selection of the projects during the development process. As a consequence, many ideas were generated, without management being able to finalise them. The funnel provides a framework for thinking about how to generate alternative ideas for development projects, screen and review those ideas as development proceeds, and achieve convergence around a specific concept and design that the firm will bring to the market (Clark and Wheelright, 1993). Specifically, the innovation funnel is a diagram that depicts the advancement of a project during the development process, thus providing the basic architecture for the activities related to the work flow. The overall development 6
process starts with a broad range of inputs and gradually refines and selects a few from among them, leading to a handful of formal development projects that can be pushed to rapid completion and market introduction. The shape of the funnel is linked to the fact that physiologically, despite the number of projects that can be thrown into it, some have to die (because of vanished market opportunities; because of an earlier move of a competitor; because some malfunctions are identified during the development process; or, because there is a mismatch between the number of projects generated and the firm's production capability). Therefore, a variety of ideas enter the funnel for investigation, but only a fraction becomes part of a fully-fledged development project. Those that do, are examined carefully before entering the narrow neck of the funnel, where significant resources are allocated in order to transform them into commercial products. The structure of the funnel is defined by the way the organisation identifies, screens, reviews, and converges on the content of a development project, as it moves from idea to reality. The funnel establishes a framework for systematic development, including the generation and review of alternatives, the sequence of critical decisions, and the structure of the main decision-making processes (identifying who is involved and the decision criteria adopted). According to Clark and Wheelright (1993) managing the development funnel involves two different tasks and challenges. The first is to widen its mouth, i.e. to expand the organisational knowledge base and access to information in order to increase the number of new product ideas. The second challenge is to narrow the funnel's neck. After generating a variety of alternative concepts and ideas, management must screen them and focus on the most attractive opportunities. The narrowing process must be based on a set of screening criteria that fit the company's technological opportunities, while making effective use of its development resources in meeting strategic and financial needs. This task can be viewed as a resource allocation problem. The goal is not just to apply limited resources to selected projects with the highest expected payoffs, but to create a portfolio of projects that will meet the business objectives of the firm, while enhancing the firm's strategic capability to carry out future projects. 2.3 Structuring the innovation funnel at Unilever The innovation funnel at Unilever is structured in four phases (idea generation, feasibility, capability, implementation/roll-out) reflecting the development process going from the generation of an idea to the roll out of the product. An increasing degree of commitment regarding resources and investments corresponds to the different phases. At 7
the end of each phase there is a "gate", i.e. a formal filter where a screening occurs and a decision is made concerning the advancement of the project across the funnel. A top management board sits at each gate and decides the approval of the documents that accompany the development phases of each project. The three gates are: charter, contract book and launch proposal. The charter is a one or two-page outline of a project describing the product, the consumer needs, the business it will generate and the way it will be achieved from a marketing and technical perspective, as well as the milestones along the way. The contract book is a contract between the team responsible for a project and the organisation, through which the basic plan to achieve the goals stated in the charter is defined and the resources necessary for the project are allocated. The launch proposal defines the project in all its components and contains the results of a market survey which supports the request for launching the product. The most important screening phase occurs at the neck of the funnel. At the entrance of the funnel there is a "forge shop" of ideas coming from different sources. Each idea needs to be described and supported by at least two physical elements that enable the IC to evaluate it. These are: a prototype, and a first quantitative evaluation of the potential of the product. The latter consists of a market test called "inno-check", the canons of which are codified in such a way that there is a uniformity of judgement. The inno-check is based on interviews with a minimum of 120 people. Once an idea has been consumer tested, the description of the prototype and the outcomes of the market test are summarized in a "charter". All this happens upstream of the funnel. Next, there is a phase of screening, in which a board, that meets every month and that includes the Chairman and his senior colleagues, selects which projects enter the funnel. The evaluation of the prototype and of the market test can lead to various outcomes: · nothing is done because the idea is not interesting enough; · the idea is interesting and the IC is charged to bring forward the concept (the product idea will be attributed to the author); · the idea is interesting and for a series of reasons the author is involved in the development of that idea (i.e. the author will belong to the development team or even will become project leader endowed with ad hoc resources). For each project a core team is created. Typically, there is one core-team member from each primary function of the organization. The team also includes other dedicated members who usually have a supporting role and work primarily for a single function or sub-function. The composition of the team can vary during the development of the project 8
according to the functions required, but normally the core team will follow the project all along the descent into the funnel. 2.4 The groupware applications The funnel as a methodological framework for the development of new products has been combined with an information system based on Lotus Notes, which supports cooperative work and global co-ordination. In the last two years, a dedicated project management system, called Innovation Process Management (IPM), has been pioneered in Milan and is now available to Personal Products (PPs)' managers world-wide. Based on LN technology, the main purpose of the system is to inform everyone around the world, more or less in real time, about what's happening on a project. It is a team-working tool which ensures that everyone is kept up-to-date on project's progress. The number of users is about 1000 world-wide. The system includes two levels of access: above-the-line and below-the-line. Below-the-line information represents the day-to-day work done by the project team and is kept confidential to its members. It contains a series of activities not yet well-defined, optimised or "publishable". When the team makes progress the information is posted above-the-line for everyone to read. Above-the-line information tells a user at a glance the project being worked on, who is on the team, and the stage of the project. This can be accessed by a wide range of personnel both within the same category and within other PPs categories, as a way of keeping people informed about the progress of an idea and, hopefully, stimulating crossfertilisation of ideas. The synthesis of the project put above-the-line is a cut and paste of the texts shown below-the-line. This level contains information that has been filtered and formalised by the core team. Since its introduction IPM has undergone an interesting evolution, which shows the structuration processes triggered by the tool and points out to some crucial organizational dynamics (see below). The first version of IPM was a completely transparent system, where everybody could see everything. As far as the system designers can remember, unexpected problems started to appear when a manager in a very high position in the hierarchy decided to put some comments directly on IPM in order to demonstrate that he was using the system and to foster the use of it. This intervention over the network apparently provoked a panic reaction among employees and contributed to freeze the use of the system for some months. In fact, the users had suddenly realized that everything they were doing could be seen even at the highest level of the hierarchy. Since then any 9
information that was put in the system was definite, grammatically correct and very detailed. The episode suggested to the system designers to draw a line that divides the information flow in two levels. In terms of access to the collaborative activities, it is important to distinguish between three crucial types of actors who have different rights to use the system: - the gatekeeper: has the faculty to read above-the-line information and approve a project by clicking on the approval button; cannot access the internal documents of the team; - the project leader: is the most powerful actor in terms of access the system; is responsible for writing the formal documents (filters) which have to be approved. Practically the project leader can do everything, but approving the project; - the other team members have access to below-the-line information, but they cannot write above-the-line (only the project leader can). The use of IPM is quite advanced in the IC dental, since all the pending projects are represented on it. The above-the-line information is very much complete and kept up-todate. Nonetheless, as we shall see, the potential of the system is not fully exploited. Inno-Pad is a more recent application that has been designed to manage the phases external to the funnel as a support to the idea generation phase. Inno Pad is a platform allowing any idea generator to launch an idea from any location and enabling the relevant board to evaluate it. 3. THE MAIN FINDINGS In this section we outline the main findings of our study by describing the dynamics observed and interpreting the main categories of problems mentioned by the interviewees. The analysis of the case highlights three main classes of problems. One concerns the dynamics surrounding the shift from a local strategy to a global one and the spanning of the boundaries of the organizational network. These problems manifest themselves through an ambiguous relationship between centre and periphery, and misunderstandings and breakdowns in communications related to connecting actors belonging to different countries and different cultures. Secondly, we could observe instances of resistance to the tool by the users. A mismatch emerged between the pre-existing work practices and the logic of Lotus Notes, leading to 10
free-riding and opportunistic behaviour. Also, the presence of alternative communication tools, with which they were more familiar, enabled the users to enact practices that tended to by-pass the new system. A final class of problems concerns the institutional properties of the pre-existing organization which create barriers to the adoption of the new tools. The career system, the role of the hierarchy and the conflicts between competing functions, all tend to discourage a real commitment to the new work organization. Our findings suggest that these problems are not related to the tools themselves and their characteristics (transparency of information; collaborative logic; structured methodology; textualization). Rather they seem to stem from a combination of factors that were gradually being disclosed by the usage of the tool. 3.1 Global vs. local: the relationship between centre and periphery At Unilever the tradition was that many good ideas and innovations came from small companies located at the periphery. In other words, small peripheral companies seemed to be more active and creative than large, central units. The introduction of a new philosophy of product development based on the funnel and Notes as an enabling tool modifies the patterns of exchange between centre and periphery, which have now become more ambiguous. As mentioned above, the shift from a local strategy in product development to a global one creates the need for a strong centralisation in order to better co-ordinate the actions of different players operating at local level. The current organisation by ICs serves this purpose. At the same time, the identity of local companies, which used to be strongly autonomous, is seriously questioned. On the one hand, local actors are inserted in a bigger network and are being asked to contribute to building the company's strategy. On the other hand, all decisions have to be taken on the basis of a global agreement, specifically with the consensus of both the core IC in Milan and the Personal Products Co-ordination in Paris. A major consequence of such ambiguity is that the decision making process is slowed down, as it involves a higher number of actors: "Earlier on, when new products were developed locally, people used to see the results of their actions very quickly. One felt in control of success and for the organisation it was easier to reward. Today, as developing a new product takes longer, people have to wait much longer to see the results of their efforts." A second effect, stemming from the modification of the relationships between centre and periphery, concerns the commitment of marginal actors to the innovation process. 11
From the very beginning the ICs were a problem: in the countries less involved and further out of the epicentre, as a reaction to the centralization people behaved as if they had been disconnected. The rationale was the following: "Somebody else is thinking about new ideas; I am sitting on the shore of the river and waiting for the arrival of a new product mix". The idea of the funnel is that there must be a very strong link among the operators (the ones who manage the business in the various countries) in order for them to contribute to the pool of new ideas. This implies that they should be involved not only in the phase of idea generation, but also in the one of development. On its turn, this calls for decentralising responsibility to local teams, so as to foster commitment to participate. For the same reasons, new collective incentive systems should be designed in order to stimulate the participation of the peripheral actors and relate their performance to the achievement of the broader organisational objectives. But this has not been the case so far. Note that it is not the nature of the system (infrastructure) that generates dysfunctions; rather, it is the ambivalence implicit in the exchange between centre and periphery (infostructure), reflected in the users' perception of the groupware applications. From the organization's point of view, the system legitimizes the role of the periphery and fosters a process of "democratization" in the generation of new ideas, since it encourages the collection of inputs from any source. From the perspective of those units which formerly identified themselves with the territory they controlled, and which had clearly set boundaries, the system now reinforces the central authority by eliminating the "niches" created de facto by the existence of geographical borders, and by making their presence more visible and transparent over the network. Note, however, that full transparency and centralization in the product development process are far from being attained. An IT application, nicknamed "Superproject", that was supposed to streamline the planning of the entire development process across organizational and geographical boundaries failed flatly. This happened because: "The map of the process on which the new automated procedure was based was too removed from the "practicalities" of the actual development process ". The removal of national frontiers and the introduction of an international environment link de facto different cultures, creating misunderstanding and breakdowns in communication. This phenomenon is pointed out by the difficult relationships between the core ICs and the regional ICs, which are authorised to manage projects at a regional level, or mainly local projects. The presence of many territorial levels contributes to the tension existing between the centralization through only one funnel and the regional development of smaller, local funnels. The implementation of a global strategy suggests the use of a shared funnel, but then problems of co-ordination seem to arise. The following episode exemplifies the sort of difficulties implied by decision making along 12
the funnel:" This morning when I arrived in my office I found an e-mail from one of our colleagues who manages IT and innovation in ... The message said that people from another foreign IC had done things on the system that she (the manager) had never imagined they could do; in a few words, they had moved a project in the funnel assuming they could do so; in the US they did not think in the same way and this led to a long exchange of information. This is an example of team work...and team work has its pros and cons, you know... Those people had moved the project ahead, because they thought that their gatekeeper had the authority to do it; the global gatekeeper said he had never given the authorisation to do it". Despite the fact that teamwork is introduced in a corporate environment, where supposedly the actors are aware of their belonging to a multi-national organization, its impact can be quite astonishing. An explanation lies in the pre-existing organizational context, characterised by the habit to work nationally, with impermeable departments, each one facing its own market. Here, again, it is important to stress the role of the preexisting organizational culture and the presence of established routines and practices (infoculture) in fostering or hindering the adoption of the new groupware system (infrastructure). 3.2 Competing tools and substitute media Lotus Notes can be regarded as an "informating" technology (Zuboff, 1988), since it supports a capillary diffusion of information. Indeed, IPM, does contain exhaustive data about current projects and their advancement. The system enables anyone to comment on a project, to create a sort of conference, or structured bulletin board, in which all users can interact and offer comments on any issue. This presupposes that the information is delivered to everybody and that it is shared by everybody. Nonetheless, the presence of the traditional communication tools (fax, e-mail, telephone, etc.), with which they are more familiar, allows users to by-pass the new applications. Substitute media, relevant for "above-the-line" are: project briefs; story boards; source references; project planning tools; and then faxes, telephone, and e-mail. "Below-theline", one finds e-mail, pieces of paper, telephones, faxes, meeting reports. All such traditional tools are perceived as more agile and also more secure, as they permit the diffusion of information in a targeted way, for example through phone calls or messages to individual persons. The day-to-day activities are run basically through them. Specifically, IPM is not applied in the below-the-line process: rather, it is an instrument used to formalise and make explicit decisions and events that have already occurred. People tend to work outside (around) the system with the traditional tools and put 13
information into it only "after the fact". As it takes time to update the system, the work on IPM is perceived as a duplication of the work already done with the other communication tools. And IPM as a tool, far from being an informating engine, is perceived as yet another medium, almost as a redundant hindrance. Its conspicuousness (Dreyfus, 1991) appears clearly when it requires users to systematically scan most of the informal written communications, or the printed annexes to the project documentation (such as statistics, images, pictures of prototypes, etc.). Only in very specific tasks groupware has no substitutes: this is the case for the IPM forums. To conclude, the groupware applications seem to suffer of the following paradox: the most informal areas of the work, the ones which should be the more open and integrated with the daily practices, are the ones less utilised and more incongruous, at least for the moment. On the other hand, the above-the-line is consistently used, though in a reporting perspective. This betrays somewhat the spirit of the application, because the part above the line is the filtered, formalised version, that arrives too late and does not really help. A potentially "informating" application is used paradoxically according to the design principles of a traditional, "automating" MIS. As a result, information is distributed but with losses of time and difficulties of various sorts. Also, it does not come as a surprise that at present informal comments to projects are rare (forums are underutilized) and that IPM has not yet entered the mentality and the daily practices of users, or at least not up to the point where it substitutes the other competing tools. 3.3 Transparency of information and expressive limits By the way in which it was originally designed IPM is extremely open and transparent, able to support teamwork more than work flow scheduling. The product development process, however, requires a certain discipline in order to facilitate the gradual structuring of ideas. Also, there is from the users' point of view the exigency to guarantee a certain level of security. A system such as IPM is totally transparent , with perhaps too little private. Such philosophy of the system triggers resistance from the users: "It is always a bit scary to put your own ideas, your perspective, your problems to the sight of anyone ". For example, a French colleague might feel interested in comparing ideas on a problem with some Italian colleagues of the IC, but maybe might be not so thrilled about informing the other German or English colleagues. Issues of power, departmental strength, opportunism and strategic use of the information can emerge. The need to show to some and hide from others is not part of the philosophy of IPM, as the system is conceived primarily to share ideas. Great efforts have been made to try to structure IPM. The perceived fear to be evaluated by the other players on the network, dispersed all over 14
the world, has forced the system designers to introduce the two distinct levels of access to the system in order to protect to some extent the users' and teams' privacy. The creation of the below- and above-the-line levels responds to that fear :"Let's create an umbrella where to hide, so that they will not see us ". For some users protecting their activity on IPM is not the main issue. The key problem is that they have to communicate on different media so that work is duplicated. For example, they have to write e-mail messages, send faxes, write reports on Notes (after having created them outside the system), and so on: "We are becoming like secretaries, who spend their days writing in front of the computer". The system is not used very much because there is no time to write. For the same reason the system is often not updated. Things are usually written "after the fact", towards the end of a project, because it has to be done. But to be effective, the system should be updated in real time and people should work "flying-by-wire". What happens, instead, is that there is always a gap between the actual advancement of a project along the funnel and its progress on IPM, i.e. between the work practices and the textualization of those practices. For a number of reasons, it has not been proven to be easy to work on-line and in real time thanks to the system. With IPM people have been confronted with a "mediating technology" (Ciborra, 1993). Part of the intentional role of the system is to "translate" work practices into a text, making them explicit. Accordingly, the system changes the traditional patterns of interaction and communication.(infoculture) This requires the acquisition of new skills, for example the ability to write. Here expressive limitations emerge: the difficulty to capture thoughts in writing; the use of written English; the fact that everything has to be laid out in a clean and structured form because the audience can be vast and hierarchically important (at least, above the line): "When we work within the team, outside Notes, we use a different style, we write in a more informal and schematic way, using bullet points, because the audience is different ". Not only, unlike for e-mail, messages on IPM are visible to everyone, but also the form of the message is different. On e-mail you write short, informal messages. On the system you often write long "stories", which take the form of a "composition". The messages have to be as much detailed as possible, in order to be exhaustive, i.e. they have to match the sum of different information requirements coming from the readers. Because the audience is so vast, messages on IPM are not customised, they have to be generalised. The funnel is perceived as useful in that it provides a structured work methodology. In a sense, the funnel is the rationalisation of already existing practices, which before were more tacit and based on improvisation. The problem is that, within IPM, users are required to continuously formalise what is done: "Before things moved faster. There was less formality. To communicate a decision, say, to decide about the details of a tooth 15
brush, it was sufficient to send a fax or an e-mail message. With IPM I have to specify when I took the decision, how, why, and so on. In short, I have to write an "essay" about the details of the product, and this takes a day. Sometimes, you know, I have to plan for my "IPM day" ". 3.4 Memory and learning: a missed opportunity Theoretically, it is possible to consider LN applications as instruments that allow the transfer and sharing of past experience. In other words, they make possible to use the memory of the past for the development of new projects, or to retrieve a solution to a problem that has already occurred before, or to keep a newcomer up-to-date. For example, Inno Pad can be considered as a memory database for innovation ideas and IPM as the memory of the state of advancement of each project. But, apart from the formal documents, what remains of a development process after a project has been completed (comments, decisions taken below-the-line, etc.) depends on the willingness of the team members to put it on the system. Usually, the history of a project, the very significant narratives related to its development are lost. The system should make it possible to capture past experience in a simpler way in order to transfer it to the other members of the organization and possibly apply it to future projects. One possibility, envisaged by some managers, would be to transform each project into a sort of case study to be used for reflection and learning. Unfortunately, the working of the system, as it has been gradually designed and used so far, sets obstacles to that. The core team members are required to take decisions and not to reflect on the decision making process for its own sake. Also within the system, the below-the-line is the locus of action and operation, rather than reflection. On the other hand, one finds in the above-the-line only formal documents and communications. 3.5 Technology and organization In many situations, the development of a tool comes first, and the organisation takes some time to adapt. At Unilever a new work organisation has been superimposed on a pre-existing one. In a company where office automation was introduced not so long ago, the joint adoption of the funnel and LN has deeply transformed the product development process. Work is not functionally divided and individually allocated anymore, rather it is becoming horizontal, networked and team based. The distinction between different roles is blurred, responsibilities are less clear; and results need to be evaluated on the basis of 16
collective performance. Moreover, as products are developed jointly, the development process becomes more dispersed, and it is hard to see when and how to evaluate people in the process. In general, such an organisational change has been managed in a somewhat "technocratic" way, following a top down approach; technology has been considered as a neutral element: "Those who designed it and especially those who implemented it, wanted the system to happen quickly and visibly, largely for political reasons, without having any deep understanding of Lotus Notes ". Initially, care about defining the new system has prevailed over care about the implementation process. People were trained on how to the use the funnel, and the new information system, but not on the organisational implications of both. No significant commitment has been made for managing change at the human level. The pre-existing context plays a crucial role in setting the path for the adoption of groupware. The new concepts that the company is trying to implement have to co-exist with an organizational structure which is still arranged according to functions: "While the organization is changing, the organizational structure is still the same ".Thus, for example, the reward system is based upon the achievement of the objectives set within a specific organizational function; the hiring and training of new people have occurred on the basis of highly specialized competencies. The persistence of a separation between the different functions is even more evident in the relationship between Marketing and the other units. As we have seen above, one of the aims of the funnel was to define a unifying concept which would integrate the different functions around a common process. Nonetheless, since Unilever is a marketing oriented company, the marketing people claim the right to promote new ideas and this is a source of conflict with personnel belonging to other functions: "Marketing people think they are the owners of the market and always have the best ideas ". Also, the structure of the career system seems to be an additional factor hindering the commitment to the new work organization: "Young project managers don't value the importance of retaining the history of a project , precisely because they are young, and have no intention of remaining in that organisation. They feel that the best for them is to finish their project as quickly as possible, in order to move to a new job, or even to leave the company ". To conclude, consider the following asymmetry between technology and organization. While the tool is neutral, grants equal access and conveys the same information, the organizational background does not have the same properties. On the contrary: some functions (Marketing) have a dominating effect; the role of different organizational units has changed during the project life cycle; some ICs are more important than others; not to mention the multiple hierarchical levels that from London to India can scrutinize the 17
product information. All these asymmetries reflect themselves on the inner equilibrium of the international development teams, and are gradually discovered by designers and users as "dysfunctions" of IPM. The system 's logic is frequently at odds with the complex, and especially uneven organizational background. Possibly, this should be looked at as a situation of transition, where it is not clear how to convey the core values of the new work organisation. There are consolidated working habits and a pre-existing organizational context which seem to hinder the full use of the new technology. In this case, the organization prevails over the technology. The old context shapes the system following the traditional values by limiting in various ways the use of the tool (see the below/above- the-line distinction as a manifestation of the hierarchy; the use of competing tools; the multiple practices to bypass the system, etc.). On the other hand, the system is there, and with its own logic is going to affect the way people work and think about their work. IPM still retains the potential to be a catalyst for true teamwork. But the interaction between technology and organisation is still lived at present as an "open match". 4. CONCLUDING REMARKS The adoption of new groupware systems in large organizations can encounter subtle problems. We are now in the position to review the dynamics of groupware implementation at Unilever using the framework presented at the beginning of this chapter. Infrastructure. At Unilever the technical validity of the platform (speed, etc.) was generally recognized. Technical problems had gradually been resolved through gradual implementation and on the basis of the feedback given by users. The system appeared quite robust. Breakdowns in the system were not very frequent. Infostructure. As Hayes and Reddy (1993) have pointed out, the effectiveness of existing interactive computer systems is not only a matter of technical reliability (the infrastructure). Rather it is more a question of conversational robustness, that is, following our definition of infostructure, the extent to which the system is able to provide a language structure and cognitive resources whereby people make sense of events within the network. Evidence supports this perspective. Users know how to navigate inside the applications, they have shown familiarity with the virtual workspace and seem to have understood the groupware syntax. At a more abstract level, they are able to relate the system functioning to the work flow and the phases that characterise it. They can even 18
appreciate the differences with respect to other information and communication tools. Nonetheless, the potential superiority of this system does not obtain in practice. Some of the interviewees' reactions point to a certain difficulty in "digesting the system". Resistances, opportunistic behaviours, actions to by-pass the groupware applications, show a deficiency at the level of the " understanding" (see the Introduction) of the tool. Appropriation has not been able to integrate the main groupware application with the nexus of communication tools which surround it. At the organisational level, Lotus Notes impacts the pre-existing formative context by questioning the hierarchical structure, the functional division of labour, the marketing leadership, and the very practices of communicating and writing. In sum, Infostructure mirrors the intersection where the organization meets the technology. It encompasses the virtual workspace by establishing clear boundaries, but it is also the locus of frictions and ambiguities. An emblematic evidence of this ambiguity is the below/above-the-line separation. On the one hand this separation is a manifestation of the hierarchy, the control system aimed at making the work process visible and formalized. On the other hand, it responds to the need of the users, to hide and protect their privacy. As we have seen, users are able to play strategically on this ambiguity. Infoculture. At Unilever, there is not a total lack of teamwork culture. Rather, the problem seems to reside in the shifting from a group culture to a community culture, one that is required by the strategy of globalisation. This shift disturbs the local sub-cultures, the relationship between centre and periphery and brings everything into a "public" dimension (a public electronic space). Consider the users of IPM as of "a community of practice" (Brown and Duguid, 1991), constantly involved in processes of co-operation and competition. The new methodology supporting the innovation process and the underlying technology place this community in a situation where a "public good" is created. The public good is something that is collectively produced and whose benefits are shared among the members of the community. According to Olson (1971), when the number of people involved in the production of the good is sufficiently high, some of them may behave as free riders, i.e. they may not contribute to the production of the good (because someone else is doing it), but they take advantage of the benefits coming from it. If an increasing number of individuals in the community behave opportunistically, the good will not be produced anymore. The notion of public good thus reveals the contradiction existing between personal interest and collective rationality. The situation is also typical of large business organisations: more and more knowledge-based activities are public goods which require the contribution of everyone; teamwork is the new way of organising such activities; 19
decision-making tends to be based on collective rationality; the new Information Systems based on groupware are more and more transparent in order to guarantee open access to knowledge and support collaborative work. This generates a tension, increased by the joint spread of groupware and teamwork. While the new socio-technical systems, based on the two innovations, emphasize the "public good" nature of task and product knowledge, the hierarchical formative context into which these innovations are embedded supports a different class of behaviours, such as the pursuit of individual objectives, opportunism, knowledge hoarding and hiding, and other factors leading eventually to free riding. As a result of such a tension, groupware and teamwork drift, since they are amended, modified and diluted in order to make their innovative concept and structure compatible to the pre-existing context. Otherwise, the innovations run the risk of landing on an inhospitable ground, and fail. The care put in searching for and establishing appropriate compromises is the source of the moderate success, or half failure, of the innovations. In order to host a public good the hierarchy has to change radically. What obtains is an ambiguous, intermediate, and perhaps transitory state, where the public good nature of the innovation is amended significantly. It remains to be seen whether the rapid and radical transformation of industries, technologies and businesses can be acquiescent to such a compromise. REFERENCES Bressand, A. and C. Distler (1995). La Planиte Relationelle, Paris:Flammarion Brown, J. S. and P. Duguid (1991). Organizational Learning and Communities of Practice: Toward a Unified View of Working, Learning and Innovation, organization science, 2 - 1, pp. 40 - 57. Ciborra, C. (1993). Teams, Markets and Systems: Business Innovation and information technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ciborra, C. and G.F. Lanzara (1994). Formative Contexts and Information Technology: Understanding the Dynamics of Innovation in Organizations., Accounting, Management and Information Technology, 4, 2: 61 - 86. Clark, K.B. and S.C. Wheelright (1993), Managing New Product and Process Development. Text and Cases. New York:Free Press. de Certeau, M. (1988), The Practice Of Everyday Life. California: University of California Press. 20
Dreyfus, H.L. (1991) Being-in-the-World, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press. Giddens, A (1984). The Constitution of Society, Berkeley, California University Press. Hayes, P. and Reddy, D.R. (1983). Steps toward graceful interaction in spoken and written man-machine communication. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 19:231-84. Olson, M. (1971) The logic of collective action: public goods and the theory of groups. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press Orlikowski, W.J. (1992). The Duality of Technology: Rethinking the Concept of Technology in Organizations. Organization Science, 3 - 2: 398 - 427. Orlikowski, W.J., Yates, J.A., Okamura, K. and M. Fujimoto (1995). Shaping Electronic Communication: The Metastructuring of Technology in the Context of Use. Organization Science, 6 - 4:423-444. Varela, F. (1989), Autonomie et connaissance. Essai sur le vivant. Paris: Seuil. Zuboff, S. (1988). In the Age of the Smart Machine, New York: Basic Books. 21

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