inside
The employee magazine
of the Volkswagen brand

Product line organisation

‘We’re closer to our products now’

Work within the product lines began in April 2016. Elmar-Marius Licharz, one of the four product line managers, tells inside what’s working well one year on – and where a few improvements are still needed.

Elmar-Marius Licharz was in charge of product control at Volkswagen before being assigned to introducing new product lines.

So Mr Licharz, hand on heart: What was your first thought when, in the fall of 2015, Brand CEO Herbert Diess handed you and your colleague Klaus-Gerhard Wolpert responsibility for introducing the product line structure?

One of my initial thoughts was: How will it all work? I was a bit worried about how possible it would be to bring about a cultural change like that within such a short space of time.

What do you mean, a cultural change?

Introducing the product lines is a major change of tack in how we operate at ­Volkswagen. In the past, we passed responsibility for resolving a lot of conflicts up to board level. Now, the departments and those responsible for the product lines work together to find solutions. The board shouldn’t have to make decisions about every single piece of chrome trim in the deepest corner of our cars.

On a scale of 1 to 10 – where would you say the product line is, one year on?

Looking at where we want to end up eventually, I’d say we’re currently at 4 or 5. We still have a long and challenging road ahead of us. But if you qualify that assessment by taking account of what we have already achieved in such a short period of time, I’d give us a score of 7 or 8. A company of our magnitude cannot just change the entire way it works within a year.

What do you think is going particularly well?

The product line staff are working really well as a team. And collaboration with Technical Development staff is functioning on a more transparent and cooperative basis. We’ve also made great strides when it comes to making faster decisions. In my G3 product line, for example, decision papers are being processed 20 percent faster than before.

Which areas still need improvement?

Some departments are still taking decisions very much according to hierarchy. This isn’t compatible with our ambition of making rapid, commercial decisions. I’m sometimes surprised at how hard some people find it to move away from the way they’ve always done things.

Other companies have taken years to introduce product lines; at Volkswagen, it only took a few weeks.

The pace of change was actually very quick. But if we had delayed it all any longer, we would have been in danger of talking the concept into the ground.

BIOGRAPHY

Elmar-Marius Licharz (46) has worked for Volkswagen since 2005. A qualified industrial engineer, he previously spent many years working at management consultancy McKinsey.

In hindsight, what would you do differently?

I would have got the teams on board better, and sparked people’s enthusiasm a bit more, even if I realize looking back that with the diesel episode in the background, it was a difficult time for us.

What feedback have you had from colleagues now working on the product lines?

On the one hand, everyone feels that we’re moving in the right direction. We are closer to the products, we take decisions collectively and tackle problems openly. On the other hand, however, there are some colleagues who aren’t comfortable with working on their own initiative.

» Decisionmaking within product lines is now 20 percent faster. «

How difficult did you find it personally to delegate responsibility to others?

Very early on I learned that being a manager is not about being able to do things better than the people you work with.  In my army days I was in charge of a troop whose job it was to maintain radar equipment. To begin with, I didn’t have the slightest idea of how this equipment worked, let alone how to repair it. (laughs)