Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine the ways in which management control is enacted in a product development setting, to provide new insights into the different roles that control can play in this context.Design/methodology/approach – A nine-month, in-depth field study was carried out at a subsidiary of an Australasian multinational firm which operates in the consumer foods industry. A participant observation approach was used to collect field notes and documents from the organisation, which were analysed through the lens of ethnomethodology.
Findings – The results indicate that the role of management control during product development is mainly focused on reducing uncertainty at each stage and promoting goal congruence at the decision gates. The authors argue that this helps explain why management control has a positive effect in a product development setting.
Research limitations/implications – The implication of this finding is that the role of management control changes during product development due to the involvement of different organisational members (communities of practice) and the activities that they carry out. This helps build a more holistic understanding of control in product development. As this is a field study of a specific company, the findings are not generalizable to other companies or settings. Future research needs to investigate other possible roles which management control may play in this context.
Originality/value – The paper extends the research in this area by showing how and why management control can take on multiple roles in practice.