Coaching Product Design Teams

Yoram Reich (Tel Aviv University), Georg Ullmann, Machiel Van der Loos, Larry Leifer (CDR, Stanford University)

Coaching, when utilized appropriately, can lead to improving the work of professionals, both alone and working in teams, doing product development (PD). While many books have been written on coaching and various studies have been conducted, we are not aware of a systematic, comprehensive study on coaching in PD. The need for a study arises from the fact the importance of PD at PD is the fuel of manufacturing organizations and therefore of economy. In addition, PD has its own specific characteristics that must be taken into account when implementing coaching for coaching to reach its maximal effect in improving the process.


Implementing coaching presents difficulties that are beyond the difficulties to implement common distributed product development. The basic difficulty arises when most participants “know” what coaching is, but they differ significantly in their interpretation. In a PBL (problem/project-based learning) class setting, we anticipate that different stakeholders would have different view about the roles of coaches. For example, the students might think that coaches are another form of teachers. Therefore, they might hesitate to ask for help. Another explanation for such team behavior arises from the macro-level perspective. Consider a “super” team consisting of the team and the coach; it undergoes the same stages as a regular team (i.e., forming, storming, norming, and performing). Lack of productive communication or poor coaching might result from not being in the performance stage.


In contrast to students, some coaches might think they are partially team members who should help the team achieve its project goal. Therefore, they would be inclined to step in and do some work if necessary. This may lead coaches to push themselves into the team work while not being asked for by the team.

The situation is exacerbated in a context that involves teams from different courses in different institutions, who have different goals and course setup. This might cause complete misunderstanding of the role of the coaches.


We have been conducting a thorough study on the nature of coaching using the tools we developed in the DSS theory project. Using a bottom up strategy we started from many situations defining human relations and arrived at 5 broad categories of coaching. We subsequently created a questionnaire from these categories and showed that indeed different stakeholders have different perceptions on coaching and on their desires from coaches. These findings could serve to align project participants at the beginning of collaborative projects thus improving their performance.


Workshops for Industry and Educational Institutions:

  • Come back in the near future – how to setup coaching in product development teams

Presentations (1-2 hours long):

  • Coaching product design teams


  • Reich, Y., Ullmann, G., Van der Loos, M., Leifer, L., “Coaching product development teams: A conceptual foundation,” Research in Engineering Design, in press, 2008. Online appendices.
  • Reich, Y., Ullmann, G., Van der Loos, M., Leifer, L., Perceptions of coaching in product development teams, in CDROM Proceedings of the 16th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED), The Design Society, 2007.

Copyright © 2005-2007 Yoram Reich
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Last modified: 5/5/2008 1:13:00 AM