Organizational Learning and Knowledge in the Norwegian Automotive Supplier Industry
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This study contributes to the understanding of how product and process development processes may become more effective, and provide increased competiveness, for suppliers in the Norwegian automotive industry. This industry cannot compete in a globalized world merely based on price advantages, thus the strategy somewhat must encompass how to maintain a position in the forefront of technology development. Consequently, the ability to adapt to changes in the environment will be an important competitive force for this industry in the future. Changes implicitly challenge our way of perceiving the world, meaning that the way companies emphasize, encourage, and facilitate learning and knowledge will determine the success of this strategy. The main objective of this study is therefore to look into what knowledge and knowledge creation is about, why it is important, how the industry studied learns and maintains knowledge, and how to improve the ability to learn and maintain knowledge in the future. Organizational learning and knowledge involve a multiplicity of theoretical approaches, models, and concepts that have been generated over the past decades. The theoretical part of the thesis is therefore structured according to a conceptual framework including four dimensions: systems level, learning modes, learning types, and learning process. These dimensions are outlined in chapters 4 to 7. Introduction, background, and research methodology are respectively presented in chapters 1, 2 and 3.Results from this research-based case study are mainly outlined based on findings from the two case companies Hydro Aluminum Structures and Raufoss Technology and an extensive survey of the Norwegian automotive supplier industry. These results are presented and discussed in chapters 8 to 11, mirroring the same structure as provided by the conceptual framework. Chapter 12 summarizes answers to the research questions asked in the introduction, and central findings are: Where to go? – First of all an innovation strategy is needed to point out which direction the organization wants to go in the future. What to deliver? – Project goals should be derived from customer requirements and aligned to innovation strategy in order to foster motivation, knowledge about output and current position according to strategic roadmap. Where are the pitfalls, and what are the consequences? – The valued ability to take risk in the value chain needs to be balanced by foresight about potential failures and what kind of knowledge the organization needs to deal with it. Who can we collaborate with? – New product development processes and innovative solutions is more and more dependent of collaboration across organizational boundaries. Hence, expert bonding and expert dialogue, both in the value chain and with other related actors, will become important for future competiveness. What is the best solution and why? – Surplus of attention is needed to encourage creativity and improve the learning cycle. The process of inquiry and awareness of the tacit knowledge dimension may facilitate a deeper understanding of the problem at hand and thereby improved decisions. How to improve communication? – High degree of involvement poses a dilemma in new product development. Involvement provides different views and solutions to a problem and it promotes knowledge diffusion in teams and organizations. On the other hand too much internal involvement may be unsuitable with the ever increasing time and cost pressure. The question is what is missed of information and knowledge when converging resources against a decision? This issue requires a more balanced view in the future. What kind of knowledge is important to store? – There are tools and methods for risk and knowledge management in use today, so the question about increased knowledge storing and sharing is a matter of how to utilize and integrate existing framework. There is also here a balance or dynamic between a backward looking approach versus what knowledge is needed for development of new and improved solutions.These central finding are claimed to be valid for product development projects in the Norwegian automotive industry. The denominator of this conclusion, time, either as foresight into the future, up-front investments in time for reflection and collaboration, quality over quantity to save time, improved decision making under time pressure, or simplification and adaptation of standards to gain more time for value adding work, may also be applicable to other companies and industries as well.