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Why you can't do things by committee

11/16/2015 12:40 PM

Have you ever noticed that the Government in the United States doesn’t really DO anything? Well, there are lots of meetings and paper shuffled and money changing hands and decisions made, but the work is done by someone else. Yes, all you military people, I know, you are a special case, the exception that proves the rule. So it seems to me that we need a little more military, which has proven extremely effective and a little less politics. Bear with me, the following three vignettes illustrate my point.

By now, you should know that we don’t talk about politics and government here, the above is simply an illustration. Here is another: In 1962 a few engineers at Ford decided that they had a vision for a new direction at the company. With several British roadsters and the Chevrolet Corvette for inspiration they designed and built a two seat, V4, mid-engine, space frame super car. They called it the Mustang after the P51 fighter from World War II. Two were produced and the second was a fully functional race car that debuted at the United States Grand Prix in 1962 at Watkins Glen. The car was too complex for regular production so the then CEO at Ford, Lee Iacocca, Instantly created a new genre of automobile by telling those same engineers to produce a new car, but use existing technology (and add a back seat) but keep the same spirit of a sports/racing tradition. In 1964 The Mustang we all know and love hit the showrooms across the nation. The new Mustang was the most successful car produced to that date in terms of velocity of sales, moving 22,000 units the first day, proving that the confluence of brilliant design and execution with strong leadership produces great results. .

In 1971 ford launched a new initiative, “Project 80” to produce two new prototypes for the Mustang, the “Ohio” based on a 1970 Maverick platform and the “Arizona” based on a 1971 Pinto platform. Tens of thousands of market research calls were made and 200 handpicked potential customers said that if Ford produced the Arizona they might be interested. The same thing happened with 700 more people in Long Beach. The Arizona was the basis for the new Mustang. In early 1973 the engineers simply couldn’t figure out how to make a Pinto handle like a mustang and came up with a rubber isolation disc that averaged out the loads and dubbed the “toilet seat” for its looks. This allowed production to go forward for the 1974 model year. In September 1973 the Mustang II hit the showrooms and buyers felt betrayed. There was no fire breathing V8. A fully optioned notchback topped $4500, more than most buyers could afford to pay. Barely 18,000 cars sold in the first month, compared to over 22,000 on the first day for the 1964 Mustang.

In 1973 Ford undertook a project to consolidate the European and American versions of various cars the built and make one platform that was sporty and hold 4 or 5 passengers. The code named it The Fox. Taking the new Fox platform and running with it, engineers designed a new body with a lower nose and higher cowl that produced a 6% reduction in drag, giving better fuel economy and more performance. A McPherson strut type suspension replaced the “toilet seat” and was cheaper, more durable and rode and handled better. Because of the lessons learned in the Gas Crisis of the 70s, the Fox Mustangs did come with a 4 cylinder engine, but you could get the 302 V8 and a turbo charged 2.3L that was better balanced and weighed less that the V8, giving similar performance with better fuel mileage. From 1979 to 2005 (26 years!) Ford built and sold 4,243,284 Fox bodied Mustangs making it one of the most successful designs of all time.

What lessons can we learn from all this? First and obviously, you can’t accomplish anything great by committee, of course. You get bogged down in font size and background color and never get any real work done. Second, let the smart people do smart things. If you don’t understand what the smart people do, how they do it, or why they make the decisions they make, you shouldn’t be pointing out the directions of their efforts. Here at Sentia, we call that Manageritis, where the Manager Gland gets swollen and inflamed taking over the normal brain functions. Third, we have to come up with a way to prototype new work in some reasonable amount of time that will let us prove the worth of our new design without spending a lot of time and effort to produce a product that isn’t what the consumer either wants or needs. Ford did this in three months with the Mustang I concept and that is why we do the things we do here at Sentia. That is why we designed and built the tools to easily generate the software that our clients want and need and to easily get the data in and out of these new applications. We don’t want, and you can’t afford for us to build you a Mustang II. That is why we can do it better, faster and less expensively than anyone else.

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