How do small companies generate and select their ideas? : A Multiple Case Study with a design management perspective
Companies that want to compete in the actual business environment need to be innovative. The shortening of product life cycles and the increasing competition force the companies to successfully come up with new ideas. In previous research some quantitative studies have been done on small companies using design management, notably in Italy and Spain. Sweden is both known for its small companies and its design. The purpose of the study is to explore design management in small Swedish companies.
This thesis aims to continue exploring the field of design management especially in small companies. We outline the following research questions: “How do small companies using design management generate their ideas?” and “How do small companies using design management select their ideas?”. To find an answer, we reviewed relevant literature concerning this topic and based on this we developed a theoretical frame including our own research platform.
Concerning our methodological approach, we choose the abductive approach since it enables us answering our research questions by extending our theoretical framework for this complex topic. Our research strategy is a qualitative study and our research design is a multiple case study using semi-structured interviews.
Our empirical findings consist of four interviews divided in two sets. The interviews were conducted in London, Gothenburg and Skellefteå. The first set of interviews addressed design management consultancies with the aim to have an overview of how small companies generate and select their ideas. The second set of interviews addressed small companies in Northern Sweden. Our findings are a synthesis of the broad view of the consultants and the case specific views of the small companies’ managers.
From these interviews, we have concluded that the design management knowledge in Swedish small companies varies and is rather rare. Nevertheless, small companies can follow design management principles without knowing the term design management (what we call silent design management). Also, the small companies we have interviewed do not use always their network to innovate but also sometimes innovate to maintain and develop their network, even ending sometimes with a joint venture with external partners. Relationships between external partners and small companies’ representatives are consequently a very important factor while finding and selecting ideas. We have analyzed design as a strategic tool and design management as a way to have a long-term strategy. We have deduced from our interviews that design management can be considered as a dynamic capability, acquired in our cases by a corporate culture or internal processes. The design process seems to be more iterative in small companies because they seem to guess more and less estimate their expected outcomes. However, a clear vision streamlines the design process, especially in small companies using design management.
We gladly recommend further research in this field, to check if the results of our research are generalizable or to look for new research gaps.
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