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M. Hämäläinen, M. Laakso

Helsinki University of Technology (FINLAND)
Participative, employee-driven problem solving has been recognized as one of the most important management innovations of the 20th century, but its effectiveness as a knowledge harvesting tool for research and development purposes has not been thoroughly demonstrated and analyzed in the context of university-industry collaboration. This paper provides such an example and shows how participative methods can facilitate and enhance this type of collaboration in several dimensions. The paper also intends to open up a conversation about the benefits and limitations of the participative approach compared to the more orthodox methods.

Traditionally it has been very difficult to ensure employee commitment in any externally coordinated, organization-wide research initiatives. The general resistance of authorities and the lack of personal interest have often watered down the contents of an analysis, even when the results could offer clear benefits to the personnel per se. The main objective of this paper is to describe and analyze the utilization of an employee-driven problem solving method in the management of a researcher facilitated process improvement. In the presented case examples, certain measurable effects of the method can be seen in the decrease of overall process costs, and in the efficiency of the university-company dialog. However, the main discovery discussed in this paper the fact that the employees involved in any organizational research or development project go beyond what can be expected of them has so far been detected merely through subjective observations.

The method used in the described case study is an enhanced workshop procedure, where both explicit and latent problems are first identified, then analyzed, and finally essential improvements are executed by an employee-driven, highly participative approach. The case study reveals that the employee-driven approach not only encourages voluntary participation to the study, but also triggers spontaneous initiatives by the employees, and thus adds to the effectiveness of the university-industry collaboration. This implies that in addition to clear, measurable results this approach also provides less distinguishable but in the long run more valuable effects.

Employee-driven problem solving has been named as one of the most important management innovations of the 20th century. The paper provides a concrete example of the benefits of utilizing such an approach as a knowledge harvesting tool for university-industry collaboration.