Product development is a phased decision making process that is difficult to manage, for example, due to lack of knowledge in the early phases when design freedom is high. The management becomes even more challenging when adding the new, complex and potentially long range considerations of sustainability to decision making in product development.
More explicitly, the management challenge is manifested in that product developers initially know little about the design problem, which is when they have highest design freedom. Later, when the product developers have acquired more knowledge about the design problem, design freedom has diminished. In sum, this paradox illustrates two challenging situations in which product developers undertake decision-making – low knowledge and high freedom, and higher knowledge and lower freedom. With the addition of time pressure, these challenging decision making situations lead product developers to become susceptible to relying on heuristics, and prone to systematic errors and biases.
In our study, we aim to outline and understand which cognitive shortcomings are involved and create potential problems in development of more sustainable products. We do so by asking the question ‘Which cognitive barriers are most relevant when incorporating sustainability considerations into product development?’ Out of four identified categories of product development decisions - concept development, supply chain design, product design, and production ramp-up and launch – we focus on the first three as they are categories of decisions where product developers may try to incorporate sustainability. To address this question, we used the rich psychology literature on cognitive shortcomings to identify which barriers are particularly relevant in the decision-making context described by the literature on product development and decision-making for sustainability.
We contribute to the practice of people developing decision support for sustainable product development by increasing awareness of cognitive barriers that are particularly relevant in this context. Theoretically, we contribute with increased understanding regarding how different cognitive barriers may be influential under certain phases, and not under others – a matter which underpins a forthcoming discussion on how clusters of cognitive shortcomings may affect outcomes of including sustainability in the product development process.