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This paper reports on a comparative case study of three ongoing research and development (R&D) projects, each conducted virtually across multiple sites and involving varying degrees of task uncertainty due to its stage on a continuum of the R&D process, from basic fundamental Research to scale-up and commercial Development.
This study applies the methodology of sociotechnical systems(STS) analysis to assess the influence of virtuality and task uncertainty on the quality of the deliberations; specifically, the knowledge development barriers experienced at the various stages on the R&D continuum. Then, building on the theory of organizations as information processing systems, and referencing extant literature on the relationship between coordinating mechanisms and the efficacy of virtual work, this comparative case study has identified different types of coordination mechanisms and their impact in reducing or eliminating knowledge development barriers for differing levels of task uncertainty, from the high uncertainty of basic Research to the lower uncertainty of scale-up Development. Results of this study extend previous findings about coordination of virtual R&D that have focused almost exclusively on the product Development stage of the R&D continuum.
Moreover, the study demonstrates how STS analysis can provide insights into the impact of coordination mechanisms on the performance of virtual R&D organizations. For practitioners, one implication is to explicitly design the deliberations and coordination of virtual R&D as part of the planning for projects such as multi-university search.