Engineering transformation for a 4.0 world: Winning over the experts who make innovation happen

Published: July 18, 2017

Executive summary

As the pace of business accelerates and innovation becomes paramount, companies need to update their strategies and processes to get new products off the drawing board and out into the market quickly. Yet the very people who perform the task of developing new products — engineers — can often be the most resistant to change. Because the work that engineers do is different from that of other corporate functions, transformation efforts aimed at their work must be rethought as well.

Rather than trying to win over the entire engineering function, however, senior management should focus on the critical subset of people who are most responsible for enacting changes. The engineering department generally requires the talents of three main types of engineers: (1) inventors, a small group of highly creative people who are difficult to control; (2) developers, the critical middle layer who know the most efficient ways to manage the innovation process and get the job done; and (3) execution experts, the largest group in an engineering function, who typically respond to traditional transformation measures. Although every company needs inventors to envision the impossible and execution experts to get the work done, the developers are actually the core group that should be the target of transformation efforts. The developers are the decision makers at critical points. As the experts who know what makes a product or process work, they have the ability to influence the outcome of any project, and they are unlikely to buy into a transformation unless they believe in its merits.

In addressing developers, companies need to adapt and complement traditional transformation measures. Specifically, we believe seven best practices are critical.

  1. Clarify beliefs and behaviors, using language and examples that developers will understand.
  2. Communicate future goals in terms of tangible improvements.
  3. Lay out a transformation path with specific milestones and direct business impact.
  4. Identify where the perceptions of senior managers differ from those of developers.
  5. Identify and capitalize on "moments that matter."
  6. If undesired beliefs or behaviors persist, use the full spectrum of measures in response.
  7. Hold specific events to change mind-sets.

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Conclusion

Transformation is an imperative within most engineering functions, yet it is difficult to implement. By identifying the critical subset of engineers, understanding their perspective, and tailoring a change initiative accordingly, companies can ensure that they create the right mind-set needed to innovative more effectively and get winning products and services to market more quickly. For the companies that get this right, there are clear financial rewards.

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Engineering transformation for a 4.0 world: Winning over the experts who make innovation happen

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