GREER, S.C. - One of the most critical issues in speeding up the September launch of BMW's X5 sport activity vehicle: Better meetings.
The German automaker knew it had to do something about the way company meetings were conducted if it ever expected to meet the project's timetable. The original Z3 launch in 1996 took 39 months; BMW wanted to deliver the X5 in 35 months.
To speed things up, the U.S. staff set new ground rules for conducting time-consuming meetings.
Change No. 1: Meetings would cover specific issues. Following German custom, meetings followed a strict written agenda and did not digress. Participants received copies of the agenda in advance.
Change No. 2: Nothing was allowed to fall between the cracks. If a question went unresolved in one meeting, someone set a specific schedule to resolve it before the next meeting.
Change No. 3: Fewer people. Rather than drag 50 people into a meeting, only those who needed to be there attended.
Change No. 4: More videoconferencing. X5 Project Manager Ulli Kranz had flown from South Carolina back to Munich a dozen times during the Z3 project. For the X5, he flew back just twice. Instead, he and his staff held 10 videoconferences a week with Munich.
'There was no need to travel to Germany,' Kranz says. 'We learned a lot of lessons during the Z3.'
The company did worry somewhat about the limitations of videoconference conversations. For that reason, it hired a professional consultant to sit in and coach the groups on communicating by video. Participants were told not to speak too loudly in order to avoid sounding angry. They were advised on how to speak and move on camera.
'All of this helped us move much faster,' Kranz says.