Are You Building a Car or Manufacturing an Engine?

Photo Credit: Erik McLean via Unsplash.com

Recently, I was speaking with the head of product development. She and I were discussing some friction she was seeing among her division leads. As she shared interactions among this group over the past several weeks, this metaphor came to mind. I asked her if her division leads thought they were building a car or manufacturing an engine.

What do I mean by this? Well, if Research and Development hands you a design — let’s say it’s for a concept car. As product development, your role is to produce that car. So, you assemble the team. One group will focus on the engine. Another might focus on the drive train. Yet another on the braking system. And, one will focus on fit, finish, and final inspection.

Now, we all know that rarely do concept cars make it out of production exactly the way they were designed. The realities of building the car dictate modifications to the design. The question is, how well integrated is the team that is identifying those modifications?

What happens if your engine lead determines that, in order to meet the deadline for building the engines that he decides to take some shortcuts? And the drive train lead determines that he has to make trade-offs on components in order to meet the budget? And, the braking system lead tweaks the schematics to simplify it for his team?

These may all be appropriate decisions. However, if there aren’t collective discussions about how each of these individual decisions will affect the overall vehicle, then the likelihood that the product the fit, finish, and final inspection lead has to work with is a viable product becomes greatly reduced.

As a leader, it is critical to ensure that your organization understands what its collective goals are and how each division supports those goals. It’s also important to ensure that what’s being measured (e.g. timelines, budget, quality) does not focus solely on the component parts but also takes into account the completed vehicle.

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Director for the Center of Collaborative Leadership at UMass Boston, Ph.D in Philosophy, CEO at Dragonfly Coaching, LLC