This paper examines the effectiveness of
organizational problem solving in response to technological change in the production process.
First, the paper measures the degree of uncertainty associated with a given technological
change by examining (1) the novelty of specific new features and functions, and (2) the
required departure from established operating assumptions and organizational relationships.
Second, the paper identifies three modes of problem solving that organizations use in
dealing with technological change: modification prior to implementation (preparatory
search), joint work with external technical experts during production start-up (joint search),
and integration of engineering and manufacturing functions engaged in start-up (functional
overlap). The effectiveness of these approaches is then tested on a sample of 48 new process
introductions undertaken in eight plants by a leading global producer of precision metal
components. Results indicate that the measured characteristics of technological change are
significant predictors of the difficulties encountered in introducing new process technology.
Findings also suggest that intensive problem solving efforts can significantly improve change
outcomes, both shortening the period of disruption experienced and increasing the operating
gains achieved. In addition, there was some evidence that the three organizational problem
solving activities discussed here are not equally effective for responding to all types of
process change. Specifically, the higher the level of technical novelty involved, the
less useful was overlap between engineering and manufacturing functions. This challenges
the general prescription that cross-functional team involvement in major technical projects
always should be maximized, regardless of the nature of the change involved.
PUBLISHED IN: Organizational Science Vol 3. No. 3,
August, 1992. Printed in U.S.A.
1047-7039/92/0303/0301/$01.25 Copyright © 1992, The Institute of Management Sciences