Collaborating in engineering design

  • John Paul Hayes

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Collaborating in engineering design is taking place increasingly across technical disciplines, departments and organisations. When collaborating, participants confront issues about how to share understanding and foster aligned project expectations. A review of literature suggests there is limited research about the process of collaborating in engineering design and how collaborating is influenced by context. Collaborating is distinguished as a relational concept (involving at least two parties) that is a social process occurring in both pairs and a group. Studies currently focus on group effectiveness, one or two processes (e.g. communication), and either a group (e.g. a collaboration) or pairwise relations (e.g. inter-organisational relationships). A framework of relevant concepts was adopted from literature on collaboration practice to organise empirical data. Collaborating in engineering design is explored in sixty semi-structured interviews focusing on participants’ interaction and shared understanding (as pairs and groups) in their activities. This is complemented by observations of group meetings and project documentation. Empirical data is presented from four industry-based case studies classified by design type (adaptive or original) and design setting (intra or inter-organisational). Cross-case comparisons draw attention to an increase in ambiguity and uncertainty in combining tasks, roles, expertise and participants in original design type or inter-organisational cases. Findings from cross-case analysis highlight seven new conceptual categories. Four features (Opportunity, Dependence, Results, Adjustments) are used to present a dilemma that participants face which is more acute where organisational and knowledge boundaries are crossed. Three mechanisms (Familiarising, Associating, Regulating) describe how pairwise relations influence a group and individuals in collaborating. These show that through pairwise relations individuals recognise, establish and maintain expectations of how to collaborate in engineering design. This reveals that pairwise relations both help and hinder individuals and a group in how they adjust to foster aligned expectations of collaborating.
Date of Award1 Jul 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorLinda Newnes (Supervisor)


  • inter-organizational relations
  • collaborate
  • design

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