Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to develop a proposal for a new conceptual framework for management control systems (MCS) in R&D units. Design/methodology/approach - The paper is a descriptive study that reviews the control literature and proposes an MCS framework in the light of four key elements: desired ends, actors, control implementation, and control tools. Findings - The study found two sub-elements of desired ends (directional and yardstick) to be complementary in a low level of uncertainty, while directional should be emphasized more in a high level of uncertainty. Five sub-elements of actors are used differently along the levels of uncertainty. The timing and use of formal and informal control types are found to be different regarding the level of uncertainty. Finally, the dimension and the value of control tools are used differently in those two distinctive situations. Research limitations/implications - The paper is limited to a descriptive study that may have further implication for research by using the framework to investigate the MCS applied by R&D units. Practical implications – The four key elements of MCS may be used in practice by developing a detail measure of each element to suit the condition of the unit. Originality/value - The paper is a new way of looking at MCS, broadening the comprehension, and introducing new MCS key elements.