The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

The Life Cycle of Bottom-Up Ideas: Case Studies of the Companies where the Simulation Game Method was Applied

Minna Forssén

Dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Technology to be presented with due permission for public examination and debate at Spektri in the Luna Auditorium at the Helsinki University of Technology (Espoo, Finland) on the 19th of April, 2002 at 12 o'clock noon.

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The main aim of this thesis is to study the life cycle of the incremental "bottom-up" ideas, which concern process and organizational matters. According to earlier studies, bottom-up ideas are not always successfully used and managed and as well there exists need for more study on organizational and process innovations. It is therefore useful to study this phenomenon more and gain more information about how organizations manage the development and implementation of these bottom-up ideas.

The three main research questions are thus: How is the lifecycle of bottom-up ideas managed in organizations? Bottom-up ideas are the ideas that emerge from the shop floor and those of the foremen. Secondly, what factors enable or disable the life cycle and the implementation of bottom-up ideas? This thesis focused on the organization's internal factors. Thirdly, how has the participative simulation game method been used in the life cycle of "bottom-up" ideas and what has been achieved?

The thesis is based on data reported in detail in four studies that are related to each other. It follows the theory-building approach, instead of the "mainstream" theory-testing approach. The data includes 33 cases, i.e., separate training and organization development projects done in 17 companies. The main methods for collecting data are interviews and questionnaires. In all of these projects (cases), the simulation game method was used as a participative training and development tool, altogether 90 times.

To manage the complex, social, context-sensitive, life cycle of bottom-up ideas successfully, this study proposes the following conclusions. Organizations seem to be lacking the holistic management of bottom-up organizational and process ideas. To ensure the holistic understanding of the management process of the "bottom-up" ideas, it should be understood that the life cycle includes three sub-processes: the creativity process, the innovation process, and finally, the evaluation process in which management seems to be very poor in organizations.

This thesis shows that ideas should be categorized and their life cycles managed slightly differently in terms of the scope: 1) "one-unit" ideas, and 2) "inter-unit" ideas. It suggests that the life cycle of "inter-unit" ideas needs to have more supportive structures and tools.

This thesis produced new knowledge about organizational and individual factors affecting the life cycle of bottom-up ideas. It emphasizes the essence of the structures, communication as well as active organizational members and managers with good leadership skills as one of the most critical factors. The results show the phase-specific disabling factors, the roles of organizational and individual factors in different phases of the life cycle of ideas, as well as the disabling and enabling factors of the life cycle of "one-unit" and "inter-unit" ideas.

The successful use of the bottom-up ideas needs to have a supporting organizational development culture. It is essential to understand the underlying critical organizational and individual factors of organizational development culture and sub-cultures at least at the management level. Because an innovation process is always a social process, managers should have supportive experimental methods to improve individual capability in handling interpersonal relations and to deal with conflict between people and within oneself.

The social simulation game is a participative, tailored developmental and training tool, which enables the life cycle of ideas. The method seems to enable the life cycle of "inter-unit" ideas improving the requirements for creativity and successful implementation. In addition, the simulation game improves mutual understanding and communication, which can effect the development culture as well as its artifacts, values, and assumptions.

This thesis consists of an overview and of the following 4 publications:

  1. Forssén-Nyberg, M. & Hakamäki, J., (1998) Development of the production using participative simulation games - two case studies. International Journal of Production Economics, Vol. 56-57. 169-178.
  2. Forssén-Nyberg, M. and Kutilainen, P. (1998) Participative simulation game as facilitator of organizational development process - two case studies. In: R. Smeds and J. O. Riis (Eds.) Experimental Learning in Production Management. London: Chapman & Hall. 39-49.
  3. Forssén, M. & Haho, P. (2001) Participative Development and Training of Business Processes in Industry - Review of 88 Simulation Games. International Journal of Technology Management, Vol. 22, No 1/2/3. 233-262.
  4. Forssén, M. (2001) Life Cycles of Organizational Bottom-up Development Ideas. Knowledge and Process Management, Vol. 8, No 4. 249-261.

Keywords: bottom-up ideas, organizational and process innovation, idea management, development culture, simulation games

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© 2002 Helsinki University of Technology

Last update 2011-05-26