Engineering: friend or foe? A new piece in the puzzle of industrial organisation

Both the engineering department and the technical office of a company are pushing for the need for increased adaptability and flexibility, whilst creating the need for open and tirelessly innovative people in every area of the company.


Rivalry between the commercial and production departments of a company is an old cliché in business circles. Free-flowing and congenial the vast majority of the time, conflict inevitably arises on occasion, in internal relations; at times, leading to tension of a more personal nature. But those days seem to have come to an end. A new common enemy has now appeared which will push that rivalry into the background, namely the engineering department.

The growing need to increase value within industry is accelerating the speed at which design, engineering and innovation are being incorporated into industrial products and processes. The most advanced companies have already been reinforced with skilled technical teams in order to anticipate client needs and step up internal productivity; and many others are taking strides in this direction.

Correctly structured and adequately strengthened, the engineering department and technical office become both competitor and bridge connecting all the areas of the company, as well as occupying areas which have hitherto belonged to other functions. What is sought after is a close and direct relationship with the client in order to understand their needs so as to propose radically improved solutions.

Furthermore, with this collaborative effort emerges the need to contribute new products and services leading to a more sophisticated entry into the market. It also spawns bold designs which are disruptive to both technologies and traditional production processes. There is a need for prospection and the novel purchase of materials and components accelerate the incorporation of innovative suppliers into unfamiliar markets. In short, there is a persistent need to become more adaptable and flexible, which in turn creates the need for open and indefatigably innovative people in all areas of the company. 

Integrating the function of advanced engineering into industrial business structures is based on the collective effort of everyone in the organisation, requiring a proactive attitude. The question remains, however: how can the appropriate dynamics be created in order to achieve this? The following are some ideas:

1) Leading new engineering activities from the highest levels of company management down, assigning the development of the new functions to the most able professionals while combining technical knowledge and future vision. 

2) Defining, communicating and sharing a strategic vision which gives coherence to the performance of all the areas of the company over the long-term and which reaffirms the commitment to engineering and development.

3) Establishing an interdepartmental team dynamic with coordinated and agreed upon actions, assigning tasks and setting up decision-making mechanisms throughout all interconnections with the added benefit of swift conflict resolution.

4) Keeping a healthy balance between technical endeavours in current business projects with more ambitious future investments.

5) Facilitating the participation and the contribution of value of all professionals in the company in any department, and anywhere in the world.

6) Providing the organisation with the necessary knowledge to successfully deal with more innovative future developments, and fusing efficient exploitation of accumulated experience with external knowledge ‘pills’, thus boosting know-how within the company.

7) Openly feeding the results obtained back into the organisation, acknowledging and rewarding successes, along with analysing the causes of failure as a tool of ongoing improvement.

Seven measures, all of which are easy to write down, yet which are complicated to put into practice. Indeed, this is an exciting management path which all companies who aspire to be competitive in industry must travel down.

Do we still recall how bad our relationship between the commercial department and production is? Well, we now have a new common enemy, or is it our new best friend?

 

*Published in Estrategia Empresarial 16-30 September, 2013

Manu Vizán

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