At BMW, “Risk-taking is part of the job”

At BMW, “Risk-taking is part of the job.” But rick-taking can also hit your customer’s perception of your quality, and potentially their overall satisfaction.

In the recent issue of BusinessWeek, there’s a brief look at BMW in “BMW’s Dream Factory, which provides a view in how the company is “sharing the wealth, listening to even the lowest-ranking workers, and rewarding risk have paid off big time.” (Also see this related article, The World’s Most Innovative Car Factory.) From the article on taking risks:

“Launching into a riff on the wonders of melding the virtual world with the nuts and bolts of an automobile, Vögel says the next generation of BMW 5 Series and 7 Series sedans will be the most Net-savvy cars on the road. And if he’s right, it’ll be because Vögel had the vision to see the importance of the technology and the gumption to build it so everyone at the automaker could recognize its potential. “We are encouraged to make decisions on our own and defend them,” says Vögel. “Risk-taking is part of the job.”

From the best practice ideas in the article:

  • DEEP-SIX THE EGOS   Rigorously screen new hires for their ability to thrive as part of a team. Promote young talent but hold back perks until they’ve shown their stuff.

  • BUILD A SHARED MYTHOLOGY   New hires learn about 1959, when BMW nearly went bankrupt. Its recovery remains the centerpiece of company lore, inspiring a deep commitment to innovation.

  • WORSHIP THE NETWORK   Teams from across the company work elbow to elbow in open, airy spaces, helping them to create informal networks where they hatch ideas quickly and resolve disagreements.

  • WORK OUTSIDE THE SYSTEM   The sleek Z4 coupe exists because a young designer’s doodle inspired a team to push his concept even though management had already killed the program.

  • KEEP THE DOOR OPEN   From the factory floor to the executive suite, everyone is encouraged to speak out. Ideas bubble up freely, and even the craziest proposals will get a hearing.

Balance this effort with BMW’s overall rank in quality: previously, BusinessWeek reported that…

“BMW ranks 27th out of 37 brands in overall quality. No, the Ultimate Driving Machine isn’t conking out on the highway: BMW tied with Toyota brand for third place in terms of quality defects. It was complaints about iDrive and other softer design issues that shoved Bimmer down in the overall rankings. Owners of BMW’s new 3-Series also complained that the window and door lock mechanisms either were hard to reach or use.”

“What if you want the latest gadgetry without having to read a manual as thick as a phone book? According to the latest Power study, Lexus is the brand to beat. Toyota’s luxe nameplate is No. 1 for fewest defects and No. 5 for fewest design flaws. Says Ivers: “Lexus has the functionality, just not the complexity.” What a concept.”

So you can take innovative gambles (as BMW did on the iDrive), and possibly take a hit to the perception of your overall product quality. At least they heard the feedback from their customers and responded. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons BMW went to great lengths recently to make the iDrive simpler and easier to use, as PC Magazine reviewed recently in their Technoride article, “MidCourse Correction for BMW’s iDrive.”

(More here on the challenges around iDrive.)

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