When new products and services are to be developed, it is the development teams of companies that will do the work. In the first stage, known as the concept development stage, the teams define what constitutes the problem and find direction for the subsequent problem-solving activities. It is precisely in this phase that the team members need to be the most creative and innovative, and it is this phase that is the focus of Johan Wenngren’s thesis, Team Activities in Concept Development – Addressing open-ended problems.
– The difficulties that a team can encounter as they go forward in the process is the focus of the thesis. One of the problems is to be innovative and depart daily routines on request or when requested by the company, says Johan Wenngren.
– At the same time, users become more demanding and there will be more issues from a sustainability and economic perspective, companies must be able to take a broader perspective on the products they develop. Therefore, they need to become better at dealing with this type of open-ended questions and sometimes do more radical assumptions.
Confront your understanding
To find out how a team works during the concept development stage, Johan Wenngren has used an explorative approach utilising experiments and observations as methods for data collection. The empirical data come from a workshop format, teams on student projects and companies in the region and created a model for concept development.
– The aim of the thesis is to identify, describe and discuss how teams explore and define open-ended problems during the concept development stage. My thesis shows that it is important to confront the understanding they have of the problem in order to find a new solution, says Johan Wenngren.
The building of an idea occurs in four stages in which you create a frame, or a perspective, and then confront it. In a first step, an early understanding of the problem is formulated during the team's discussions. After that, the team concretize their understanding to a frame, this frame is related to the problem situation and a mental representation of a solution has been created.
– In a final step, the team creates a physical representation, and compares it with the mental representation. By doing so, the team confront their understanding and therefore learn from their assumptions.
Difficult to change perspectives
The research has focused on how teams work practically to build up an understanding by iterating, that is, to build something in several steps.
– For best results you need a team to perform these iterations in several steps. To do that, it's good if you have a good communication, working physically with creating simple representations of the problem and its solutions, and can accept that from the beginning you do not know what the physical result will be. It is difficult to change your perspective, but it is what is required.