Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cars & Trucks

Part 1 in an irregular series about bad management

Imagine what things would be like if a major truck manufacturer -- let’s call it Peterworth – were to function like $MegaCorp. If Peterworth wanted to get into the automobile manufacturing business, it might make sense for them to purchase Maserati. It's a high profile manufacturer, a market leader in its division, and Peterworth would stand to gain valuable technology as well as aerodynamics and design engineers. However, it would be absurd for Peterworth to then insist that Maserati use the Cummins ISX engine for production vehicles.

But perhaps Peterworth’s managers might respond that the 11-liter Cummins truck engine offers 530 horsepower while Maserati’s top engine only puts out 405hp. If management’s only goal was brake horsepower and they ignored everything from design to weight to fuel usage we would at least understand the reasoning behind such a bad decision.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Peterworth likes consistency throughout their design and production. One constant design element is cab-over: to access the engine the entire cab rotates up and forward hydraulically. Maserati engineers would protest that the engine is in the middle and it’s impossible to lift the entire body to expose the engine since the car incorporates unibody design for safety and stability.

Peterworth management ignores the explanations and demands a new, cab-over design, telling the Maserati engineers to figure out how to do cab-over to expose the engine which wouldn’t fit under a normal hood anyway, and that if safety is an issue then they better get back to work on the design already. After all, they’re part of Peterworth now.

The engineers figure out how to mount the massive engine in the middle behind the driver, cut the body and strengthen it using steel beams, incorporate a cab-back design so that the back half of the body can lift and rotate, and they do their best to make the thing aerodynamic.

The drawings still look workable even if the result looks nothing like previous Maseratis. But then a Peterworth engineer notices that there’s no way to stack the front of one car onto the back of another. Maserati engineers ask why the hell you would need to do that to which the Peterworth engineer responds, "So we can deliver the things." Trucks are normally delivered by chaining a few cabs onto the fifth wheel of the truck in front of them, sending them out to dealers in this configuration three to five at a time.

Of course the Maserati engineers are floored and try to explain that cars are delivered using car carriers which can hold six to eight at once. Peterworth replies that the have no car carriers and their market research shows that customers like the current delivery method. Some smart-assed dog-monkey in Maserati asks Peterworth management if customers had been asked about car delivery being handled the same way as trucks and is quickly muzzled.

So the engineers go back and make further design changes to reinforce the rear of the Maserati with more steel so that if can bear the additional weight. They then realize they have to increase the tire size and change the rear suspension. Maserati engineers also have to modify the front design to add weight and a linkage so that this stacked delivery method could function.

The car is now uglier than a 1972 Volvo, heavier than a Hum-Vee, has the aerodynamics of a garden shed, the handling of a canoe, and costs more than a Ferrari Enzo. But Peterworth management is thrilled because the car meets all their metrics: it has the highest horsepower available in a stock car, uses many of the same parts already used in production in other divisions, and it’s capable of being delivered using the Standard Delivery Methodology.

Despite poor reviews, complaints, dropping sales, drastically reduced customer satisfaction and constant demands that Maserati cars at least perform and handle like they used to, management sees raving success thanks to the chosen metrics being fulfilled.

Management has another idea: worker equality. The workload is widely distributed at Peterworth and there's no reason that the Maserati people should be treated differently. Peterworth's way of thinking doesn't allow them to differentiate between the ¤100/hr engineers, ¤80/hr monkeys, ¤30/hr secretaries and ¤8.37/hr outsourced monkeys. They all know Maserati, they can and will all do each others' jobs.

It doesn't matter that most secretaries have never drawn a single mechanical sketch in their lives or that the engineers don't know how to hand-bore an engine. Work is to be distributed fairly, meaning each person will complete X number of "tasks" each day. Anyone working for the Maserati subdivision ought to know how to work on Maserati issues.

The workers themselves are smart enough to know their limits so while some engineer is trying to figure out how the hell some glub-awful spreadsheet was put together, the secretary who should be doing it is asking him about metal alloy shear strenght since she's been tasked with a piston redesign. They're not allowed to trade tasks; management knows best. But they end up wasting even more time trying to figure out how to do their assigned tasks and helping others to do the tasks they themselves could do best.

But management is also always on the look-out for ways to improve a product. They approach the engineers and tell them that there’s only one small problem with the car: it’s not pulling enough weight. Literally. Next year’s design needs to raise the rear end and incorporate a fifth wheel so that the car can haul at least a standard 20´ trailer. The following year’s model can be upgraded to allow for hauling a full 40-footer.

This is exactly how management at $MegaCorp think and act. If you thought you knew who $MegaCorp was before, you can now be certain whether you’re right or wrong.

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