Saturday, 24 February 2007

Pulling Apart

YOU have probably heard the latest joke about Airbus. It’s not about its financial or management state of affairs, but about its planes — the one that goes: “an Airbus plane is a Boeing made in Europe.”

No, it doesn’t sound so funny; not unless you are European. But the jibe hits true and to the point — a large part of Airbus’ problems is related to the fact that it is made according to European ways of making things.

And just what is not right with the European way of making things? Isn’t France well known for fantastic designs, Germany for meticulous engineering, and the UK for good old world charm and elegance?

Isn’t this why we go for French haute couture, English Aston Martins and German BMWs? Yet, why is it that when the three get together to build a plane, the result leaves customers less than delighted?

It is supposed to be Airbus’ trump card on Boeing. Larger than any airliner ever built, the A380 could fly more people across continents in a way never before seen in aviation history. The new Airbus plane would be the “palace of the skies” carrying travelers to their destinations in unprecedented levels of comfort.

But the road (or, in this case, flight path) to the A380’s blue skies has been nothing but blue. Long delays in production have set back delivery dates to major airlines by more than a year in many cases, leaving executives fuming and looking for compensation from the company, to reduce their losses.

To detractors of the European way of doing things, it is easy to blame the plane’s European heritage for its problems. Many Europeans themselves believe this to be the case — that the British, French, German and Spanish makers of the plane could not, among themselves, sit down in peace long enough to make something that works well, on time and to customers’ expectations.

To a large extent, there is a lot of truth to this. Small though the continent may be, Europe is a fractious grouping of states and peoples that have never really wished to work closely together, and only less than a hundred years ago, have been actively waging war on one another on a large scale, to prove the point.

Taking it out of its geo-cultural context, however, it is easy to see the problem as the embodiment of how various parts of organizations — whether they be different departments within the same division, separate divisions within the same company or related companies within the same group — often end up working at cross purposes to one another, albeit with the best of intentions in their efforts.

How many times have we heard “Sales and Marketing” complain about “Finance” while “Manufacturing” blames “Supply Chain,” and everybody else point at “Human Resources” for causing them problems, and being the reason for their inability to deliver on their objectives? If the organizations you work for are anything like the ones I know, “too many times” would be the answer.

What’s the problem? Is this the way organizations are supposed to be working, and we are inescapably doomed to have to accept this as a way of life? Or can something be done about it, so that we could pull together and achieve our common objective?

Published in Sun Star Daily, Saturday, February 24, 2007 (