Management control in new product development: The dynamics of managing flexibility and efficiency

B. Jørgensen, M. MESSNER

Journal of Management Accounting Research

December 2009, vol. 21, n°1, pp.99-124

Departments: Accounting & Management Control

Several studies in management control have drawn upon the concepts of coercive and enabling forms of bureaucracy (Adler and Borys 1996) to discuss how the features of a control system may affect employees' attitudes toward control. This question is relevant because enabling forms of control allow organizations to better manage tensions between efficiency and flexibility, which is arguably a key issue in many organizations today. Our paper contributes to this stream of research by detailing how enabling control functions in the particular setting of new product development. To this end, we draw upon empirical material collected through an in-depth field study carried out in a manufacturing organization. We use data from interviews, participant observation, and internal documentation in this firm to demonstrate how the combination of different control mechanisms helps the organization balance efficiency and flexibility. In addition, our paper sets out to explore how strategic change can influence the operation of enabling control. Focusing on the introduction of a new product strategy in our case organization, we describe employees' repair efforts in adapting the control system to their own needs. We find that these repair efforts are perceived as not wholly satisfactory, which suggests that, in the case of important strategic changes, repair may require more top-down management intervention