The Big Meeting

An attempt to cure all ills, is the impression many Americans get of German processes. From their perspective, Germans try to apply processes in areas where only common sense and good judgement work. „Processes can‘t substitute for people“ is a common statement one hears from Americans in German companies. Much of what people in companies do simply cannot be objectified. Continuous process modification, from the American perspective, produces far more internal agitation than it does any kind of value.

Frustration was high, very high. It was about the bid process. A German multinational with a large presence in the United States. Plant construction. Big plants. Complex. Customers in a multitude of countries. The bid process, too, is complex. All of the key topics come together: market, customers, product portfolio, price, competition, etc. And the key disciplines come together: engineering, supply chain, project management, finance, risk, etc.

An offering is formulated. If they get the contract, the project runs over several years. Tremendous depth of detail. If the complexity is not grasped, nothing but problems during the entire project. Lose a lot of money. If the complexity is understood, the project is executable. Earn lots of money.

There is a process for bidding on projects. The problem is, the processes on either side of the Atlantic look different. From my point of view, no surprise. Americans and Germans have different approaches to the topics, to the disciplines. At its core, the bid process is a decision making process. And as such it is only to a certain degree technical. The baseline analysis is done. Engineers. Engineering methods. IT tools. The results: numbers. Processes are critical here. Science does its work.

But after that it‘s all about judgement. Experience, intuition, common sense. Everything comes together in the big meeting. The boss with her direct reports, the heads of the disciplines. Interdisciplinary, as they say. They discuss intensely, long, often in great detail, open, focused. Key parameters are looked at from every possible angle. The boss drills down with her questions. The experts respond to the best of their ability, and based on their calculations.

Far more than a brainstorm, they look for ways to handle the tough questions. Back and forth, up and around, combine, separate. More art than science. Bids are formulated not generated. The big meeting is not a factory. No place for a process here. The task is far too complex.

And so it went for years, actually generations. It‘s how Americans make decisions. The big meeting. I had heard about it. Then I was allowed to sit in, like a fly on the wall. German headquarters wanted to change the bidding process. Make it more German. Process harmonization. The Americans were not amused. The big meeting.

It was fascinating. It went as I had anticipated. I felt at home, understood its inner logic. The German colleagues do it differently, much differently. They move along a process, from beginning to end. No big meeting. The topics are addressed in a crisp, brief, focused manner, like knocking off the topics in a routine meeting. Not all that much interaction among the participants. Everything based on facts and analysis, and the process. Objectified in the spirit of: „Good decisions are the result of good decision making processes.“

The Big Meeting