Managing Distributed Product Development Projects: Integration Strategies for Time-Zone and Language Barriers
Distributed product development projects encompass product and process development activities that span organizational and country boundaries. The increasing trend toward globalizing projects requires firms to coordinate development efforts made by team members from various functions within the firm, speaking multiple languages, and working in various time zones. We analyze qualitative data from 70 distributed product development projects that span 14 countries and involve cross-functional team members speaking 10 different languages. We find that commonly discussed integration strategies such as modular product designs and colocating team members by themselves are insufficient to coordinate project work. Rather, our field interviews suggest that firms invest in design information systems (DIS) with specific features to facilitate product design and empower their project managers to integrate the development efforts. Specifically, our interviews suggest that firms often modify the organization by “unifying” the engineering and purchasing functions into a single supply chain integrator function to increase the scope of responsibilities for these managers. We then test our hypotheses on the benefits of these strategies on project outcomes by using survey data from 55 distributed product development projects in 20 firms. Results indicate that the use of DIS is associated with higher quality and relationship performance when there are differences between focal and supplier firm personnel languages. Unifying engineering and purchasing functions into a supply chain integrator is associated with improved response time in the presence of time zone differences. We also find that a unifying strategy is associated with lower cost in the presence of language differences, but is also associated with a worsening of response time. These results provide guidance to product designers in organizations that must coordinate complex work across time zone barriers and languages. The results also provide guidance to researchers, by showing that different integration mechanisms may have differential effects across various coordination barriers and across multiple dimensions of project performance. We conclude by linking these results to integration mechanisms previously discussed in the coordination literature.