Investigating the effects of time pressure on new product development teams

Darrel Sau-Foong Chong

Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 1 (Research TU/e / Graduation TU/e)

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The need for innovation has led high-technology organizations to use project teams as the method of choice to bring new products to market under demanding schedules. Adopting a team approach, however, is not always fruitful and often depends on whether team members can work effectively together. Several studies have identified stress to potentially enhance or threaten team effectiveness. Among the different kinds of stress, time pressure has emerged as a prominent and ubiquitous stress experienced by innovation teams. Although much research was conducted on time pressure, most of them had focused on individual processes. Therefore, we decided to study time pressure in a team environment, with a specific focus on new product development (NPD) teams. This thesis consists of four empirical studies. The first study is exploratory. It examined the antecedents of and coping resources in relation to time pressure. The subsequent two studies investigated the effects of time pressure on team outcomes, with team communication being the key team process in the second study and a two-dimensional model (challenge-hindrance time pressure) developed in the third study to provide an added perspective on how time pressure influence critical team outcomes, such as coordination, quality, and timeliness. The fourth study, which evolved from the earlier investigations, tested the moderating effects of time pressure on the relationship between team proximity and team communication. All the studies were conducted using NPD teams from Western Europe (Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands, and United Kingdom), involving respondents from various hierarchies (developers, leaders, managers) of project teams in Philips, NXP, Oce, FEI, Medtronics, and Infineon, to name a few. The first two studies were qualitative, and adopted a multiple case study (interview) method, using a sample of 8 teams. The subsequent studies were quantitative, and adopted an electronic survey method, using a sample of 81 teams (500 respondents). In the first study, our investigation uncovered nine categories relating to antecedents of time pressure, and ten categories relating to contexts that increase teams’ coping resources. Among the antecedents, ‘management attention’, ‘multiple projects’, and ‘unrealistic schedule’ are seldom mentioned in the literature, whereas ‘shielding’, ‘team commitment’, and ‘customer involvement’ are considered new variables that increase teams’ coping resources. Importantly, out of the nine antecedents, only two are associated with factors external to the organization. This suggests that time pressure is largely perceived to originate from within organizations. In addition, our findings show that teams tend to perceive time pressure negatively if they encounter numerous internal antecedents of time pressure and a few coping events at the workplace. Therefore, we conclude that management should reduce the occurrences of internal antecedents of time pressure and increase coping events, respectively, if they want to help their teams experience time pressure as an enabling instead of an inhibiting stressor. Subsequently, this thesis examined the effects of time pressure on team communication using real project teams because studies have found this team process to strongly determine project success. Our research indicates that team members tend to perceive time pressure as an obstacle to team communication. Although, our findings show time pressure to increase proactiveness in terms of soliciting information from colleagues directly, time pressure also threatens other communication dimensions, such as scope, depth, and timeliness. Results demonstrate that time pressure induces teams to focus more on information sharing between members of the same sub-team than with members of other sub-teams of the same project, to experience a tension in information exchanges between information providers and seekers as both parties develop different task focuses, and to become more self-focused and pay less attention to social cues. A goal of this thesis is to reconcile some of the discrepancies related to the effects of time pressure on team performance. In general, levels of felt stress have been used to understand the positive and negative effects of time pressure on performance. Scholars have used the inverted-U model, where low and high levels of time pressure are related to poor performance, to explain the relationship. However, teams do not necessarily perform worse when the levels of time pressure are high. The inverted-U model cannot satisfactorily explain the exceptional performance of some teams under intense time pressure. A probable explanation for such inconsistencies may be found while considering the nature of stress. In this study, we followed LePine and colleagues’ two-dimensional model for stress to conceptualize time pressure as challenge and hindrance time pressure. Confirmatory factor analysis provided statistical significant support for the two-factor structure. Our research shows challenge and hindrance time pressure to, respectively, have positive and negative effects on team coordination, solution quality, and development timeliness. This study offers to explain why some studies found positive, null, or negative relationships between time pressure and quality. We suggest that treating time pressure as a uni-dimensional construct, while it has two properties, might have caused the mixed outcomes. Equally important, we found team identification to mitigate the negative effects of hindrance time pressure on team coordination. We conclude that the nature of time pressure plays a central role in determining how time pressure affects team outcomes, and underscore that teams can remain viable even under intense time pressure if it is perceived as challenging. Therefore, cultivating a work environment to instill a challenging perception and to reduce the negative effects of time pressure is essential. Finally, our research shows team proximity to improve team communication only when teams experience high levels of challenge time pressure, or low levels of hindrance time pressure. Past studies have generally assumed close physical proximity to improve team communication on the premise that reduced physical distance increases the probability of chance contact and information exchange. However, research also showed that the relationship between team proximity and team communication is not always straightforward. We conclude that the relationship depends on some contextual conditions, and time pressure is one factor to influence that relationship. In sum, this thesis contributes to knowledge in relation to understanding the antecedents and coping resources of time pressure, the effects of time pressure on key team outcomes, and its role as a moderator, all in the context of NPD teams. The conceptualization of time pressure as challenge and hindrance time pressure is new and needs to be further validated in future research. The detailed implications with respect to theory and practice as well as limitations of our research are discussed in the main chapters of the thesis.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences
  • National University of Singapore
  • Rutte, Christel, Promotor
  • Brombacher, Aarnout C., Promotor
  • van Eerde, Wendelien, Copromotor
Award date12 Mar 2010
Place of PublicationEindhoven
Print ISBNs978-90-386-2168-5
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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