Coaching product development teams: A conceptual foundation for empirical studies

Yoram Reich, Georg Ullmann, MacHiel Van Der Loos, Larry Leifer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Global product development teams work in ambiguously complex dynamic networks. Characterization of the distributed work environment includes many factors, including: individuals and sub-teams are geographically distributed; they belong to different organizational cultures; they operate in different time zones and within different cultural and professional-frameworks. From a communication perspective, individual team members may speak different languages and lack a common tongue. Even in these scenarios, project teams are expected to produce quality products and bring them quickly to the market. The design-to-market life cycle has shortened markedly in the past decade in many industries. How do they manage to perform effectively in the face of these many obstacles? Development team "Coaching" has emerged as a guiding force in many project-organized environments. Individuals may have arrived at the role informally, tacitly responding to the needs of teams around them, or they are professionals with formal training as we find in SAP's "Design Team Services" group (Plattner 2007, personal comunication). We have observed that the coach provides project team members with assistance that ranges from problem solving to moral support. In spite of the growing use of coaching, there is significant confusion about the nature of the role, the attributes of good versus poor coaching, associated terminology and definitions. We report on the development of a conceptual framework for further research in the emerging domain of design engineering coaching. Our efforts began with an extensive literature review that yielded leading candidates for role terminology and the scope of the subject. With that framework in hand, we performed a field assessment (survey) in an industry-academic environment that is noted for the extreme nature of its project-based learning paradigm and deep corporate engagement, including a mixture of industry liaisons and academic advisors who are in coaching roles. We expect the combination of methods to provide common ground for further work and to better explain the issues to students and industry partners. The resulting framework consists of five main roles that design-team coaches have been observed to assume. It is anticipated that our results will help others identify new research questions and apply an expanded set of empirical methods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-222
Number of pages18
JournalResearch in Engineering Design - Theory, Applications, and Concurrent Engineering
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 2009


  • Coaching
  • Conceptual framework
  • Knowledge management
  • Literature review
  • Product development
  • Tacit knowledge
  • Teamwork
  • Terminology


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