Economies of Scope Through Multi‐Unit Skill Systems: The Organization of Large Design Firms
20 Pages Posted: 10 May 2012
Date Written: June 2012
From a study of three large design firms in Italy, the UK and the USA, we derive a distinct model of how large knowledge‐intensive business services (KIBS) firms organize to manage growth and realize economies in ways that differ from the organizational techniques that are familiar from scale and scope studies of large manufacturing enterprises. Case studies were compiled from interviews conducted at the three firms. Large design firms were selected as a contrasting context to Chandlerian manufacturing firms. Design firms were expected to differ from manufacturing firms in terms of strategy, organization and the overall possibilities of achieving economies of scale and scope. Our results show that competitive advantage of these large KIBS design firms derives from a particular multi‐unit skill system that enables the firms to exploit economies of scope. There are four distinctive organizational features of such KIBS firms. First, multiple business units within the firm play a dual role. These are able both to engage in inter‐unit coordination and resource sharing and to attract business independently, often with heterogeneous business models among units. Second, these firms develop formal organizational routines for involving multiple business units in client projects, thus facilitating the migration of clients' business from one unit to another. Third, there is an important role for cross‐unit strategic ‘insight’ agents. Fourth, these firms expand through the founding of specialized, even idiosyncratic, new business units (often with the important role of mastering new technological skills).
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