Previous research has shown that effective use of design by small companies can contribute positively to business performance and competitiveness. The Swedish wood manufacturing industry is facing intensified global competition. In many, especially smaller, companies the struggle for their survival involves an imperative to find new ways of development in order to increase profit. Design and product development are traditionally given low priority in many companies, but design investments are now seen as an important opportunity to create competitive advantages for small wood manufacturing companies. Until today, however, very little research has been published addressing product development and design in small wood manufacturing companies. The main purpose of this research was to document how small wood manufacturing companies invest in design and use professional design skills in product development. More specifically the objectives were: to examine how the product development process of a design project is carried out to identify success factors and problems occurring during the project process to compare company managers' and design consultants' perspectives on how they view the problems and opportunities of a design project. The results are presented in three papers based on two multiple case studies of small wood manufacturing companies in Sweden. In the first study, presented in paper A, data was collected from nine wood manufacturing companies located in the county of Norrbotten. Papers B and C were based on the second study, which comprised four small wood manufacturing companies, located in the counties of Norrbotten and Småland, together with their associated design consultants. Data collection methods in both studies involved mainly semi-structured interviews complemented by questionnaires, an approach chosen to achieve both broad and deep understanding of each studied case. The results indicate that using design experts in product development can be of importance for creating a competitive edge for small manufacturers if used efficiently. Design investments cannot be considered a guarantee for success, however, and it should be clear that small wood manufacturers, also ones of similar size and structure, face different needs for design and possess different competence to manage design effectively. Product development processes were seen to depend widely on the existing conditions and hence vary from project to project. No formalized methods were used in the studied design projects and processes were managed more or less on an ad hoc basis. Limited resources concerning finances, personnel and design competence, together with a lack of planning and process structure, were seen to affect the project outcome negatively, whereas previous design experience, management by the designer when a company lacked experience, external financing, and a good relationship and tight communication between the company and the designer were identified as success factors. Differences in project perspective, experience level, and starting points cause managers and designers to take different views on problems and opportunities occurring in a design project and therefore cause communication difficulties and affect project cooperation negatively. It seems that to get these perspectives to meet is a large challenge to achieve successful cooperation.
Luleå: Luleå tekniska universitet, 2005. , 23 p.