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Hurdles to Clear: Cognitive Barriers in Sustainable Product Development
Blekinge Institute of Technology, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Industrial Economics.
Blekinge Institute of Technology, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Strategic Sustainable Development.
2015 (English)Conference paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

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.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
National Category
Applied Psychology Environmental Engineering Production Engineering, Human Work Science and Ergonomics
URN: urn:nbn:se:bth-10537OAI: diva2:852408
The 23rd Nordic Academy of Management Conference, Copenhagen
Model Driven Development and Decision Support
Knowledge Foundation

 Track 6: Management of innovation, product development and design 

Available from: 2015-09-09 Created: 2015-09-09 Last updated: 2015-11-16Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Integrating sustainability into concept selection decision-making
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Integrating sustainability into concept selection decision-making
2015 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The audience for this research is fellow researchers and others helping product developers to start including sustainability when they are selecting product concepts.

The aims of the research were to understand the needs of product developers integrating sustainability into concept selection and what might be done to help them.

The research approach was to iterate between the three studies of design research methodology. The first study focused on understanding the challenges that product developers face when integrating sustainability into concept selection. The aim of the second study was to identify potential support to help product developers to deal with the challenges.  And the third study was to try out the potential support to see if it actually helps product developers address the challenges they face. These studies were executed through reviewing literature and exploring two cases.

The results led to a focus on supporting the decision-making process and supporting analysing with  respect to social sustainability.  Selecting concepts is a complex decision made under challenging conditions. Bringing in the complex, new and unfamiliar aspects of sustainability can make good decision-making even more challenging. When integrating sustainability, two particular barriers to good concept selection decision-making are errors due to illusory correlation and confirmation bias.

Despite the challenges, how good you are at making decisions matters. And a good decision-making process drives good decisions. This is especially relevant when bringing in complex and unfamiliar aspects, such as sustainability.  A likely candidate for helping product developers achieve a good decision-making process when integrating sustainability is active, value-focused decision-support. In other words, structuring the process into bite-sized steps and using particular techniques to avoid bias. At each step, decision-makers’ focus is anchored by the things that stakeholders value as important.   Further research is required to investigate the details of how to employ these process-support approaches in the particular context of integrating sustainability into concept selection decision-making.

In addition to a process, complicated selection decisions demand analysis. Support for analysing concepts with respect to social sustainability was identified as a gap. We explored a potential approach that might contribute to this analysis, but found that it was not useful for the particular decision in hand.  This opened up some interesting questions for further research.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Karlskrona: Blekinge Tekniska Högskola, 2015
Blekinge Institute of Technology Licentiate Dissertation Series, ISSN 1650-2140 ; 11
Sustainable product development, decision-making, concept selection
National Category
Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified
urn:nbn:se:bth-10971 (URN)978-91-7295-320-8 (ISBN)
2015-12-17, 09:00 (English)
Model driven development and decision support
Knowledge Foundation
Available from: 2015-11-16 Created: 2015-11-12 Last updated: 2015-12-22Bibliographically approved

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