Participatory Design for Digital Transformation of Manufacturing Enterprises


Anastasia K. Ostrowski

Anastasia K. Ostrowski

Dec. 7, 2020

Ostrowski, A. K., Pokorni, B., & Schumacher, S. (2020). Participatory Design for Digital Transformation of Manufacturing Enterprises. MIT Work of the Future Taskforce Working Paper.


The digital transformation holds various promises for improvements in terms of productivity and quality in manufacturing (Neugebauer, 2019). With Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things, technological solutions are available and beginning to be implemented in today’s smart factories (Frank et al., 2019; Niewöhner et al., 2020). Nonetheless, recent studies and applied research imply that the digital transformation of whole manufacturing enterprises is stagnating in terms of innovation and organizational business development. Manufacturing companies are prone to get stuck in the differentiation phase when trying to evolve with the individual digital transformation of their businesses. Over 70 percent of digital transformation initiatives fail, cumulating an overall loss of 900 bn. USD (Tabrizi et al., 2019). Reasons for failing digital transformation initiatives range from mainly technology-focused, socio-organizational approaches, inadequate management of organizational growth, centralized knowledge and innovation management to a widespread lack of user acceptance in the workforce (ZoBell, 2018). The organizational and methodical approach for digital transformation in manufacturing systems has to change.

Participatory design aims to actively involve all stakeholders in the design process to help ensure the result meets their needs and is usable. In manufacturing companies, the workforce often accumulates valuable knowledge on processes and internal problems. By introducing participatory design to the digital transformation of manufacturing enterprises, workers in their role as the central (end-)users of the system are integrated into important innovation processes (Issa et al., 2018). Thus, new types of manufacturing organization with bottom-up innovation from within the workforce can be realized.

Our aim is to benefit the digital transformation of manufacturing enterprises by introducing human-centered methods and technologies through participatory design. Our research intends to involve relevant case studies from manufacturing enterprises and provides significant industrial impact by enabling an innovation capability shift towards individuals, including the manufacturing workforce. When implemented systematically and holistically, manufacturing enterprises, unions, and individuals will benefit from the improvements made possible by participatory design for digital transformation.

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