We all know of the magic triangle: quality, schedule, budget. We also all know how difficult it is to deliver a product, a service or internal work results which meet each of the three criteria. Seldom does a team deliver high quality results, within schedule, and within budget.
The question in the German-American context is which of the three is allowed to slide (have lower priority) than the other two. For if there are differences between the two cultures on this point then there are certain to be points of misunderstanding in that collaboration.
I believe that Germans will almost always allow schedule (speed) to suffer before threatening the quality of the final product, whether an actual physical product or a service. One, and not the only reason, is that they are careful in their decision making, thus taking more time. Germans define precisely what they want, order, buy.
Speed is key
Since they think longer-term than Americans the Germans are more willing to make a significant investment. This all adds up to a willingness to wait longer for delivery. In fact, delays are not uncommon in Germany, in both business-to-business and business-to-consumer areas.
And, since the Germans focus on high-tech, -engineering, -science products and services, quality in the sense of sophistication, technology, innovation is in the end what their customers buy. To deliver more quickly, or at a lower price, is seldom a strategic advantage. People, and companies, who buy German products have made a commitment to do so. They are willing to wait. Especially Germans are willing to wait for German solutions, as long as they know that they will receive the quality they ordered, expect, demand.
Americans are different. Speed to market is one of the most critical success factors, whether the company is in B2C or B2B. Americans decide quickly, and need the solution (product or service) quickly. Because speed (maintaining schedule) is so fundemental in the American economy, everyone contributes to it remaining important.
Less quality-oriented. Lower expectations.
Price is equally important as speed in the U.S. economy. Although many Americans would not admit it, they often make purchase decisions based primarily on price. This is also the case in the business-to-business context. American companies – including departments within those companies that are profit centers – focus strongly on, well, profit. Publicly-traded companies need to produce profitability each quarter.
Speed and price are very high priority in the U.S. It is quality which then has to take a back seat if either or both of those two are threatened. Americans, too, value quality. They are more likely, however, to accept lower quality if the price is right and delivery is fast. In comparison to Germans, the Americans are simply less quality-oriented. Their expectations are lower. They are willing neither to wait nor to pay for technology or features or engineering which in their mind do not add enough value to justify a higher price and/or a longer wait.
Therein lies the potential for misunderstanding between the two business cultures. Often Americans are willing to meet the requirements of the customer, whereas the Germans will rarely settle for anything less than going beyond customer requirements. Americans find the Germans to be too slow. The Germans see the Americans as too impatient.
Speed and price are of lower priority
I have experienced this many times with my German customers. We meet, get to know each other, discuss their situation. I feel that it is clear to both sides how I can and should support them. I then suggest that we get started. The German customer, however, is not ready to move as quickly.
This is the German signaling to the American that there is no urgency. They want to think things through, consider all of the ramifications of the actions we take together. Even price is less important to them. My German clients focus on the problem, its solution, on the optimal approach. Speed and price are of lower priority. Starting a month or two later is insignificant.
Quality. Schedule. Budget. Which has priority?
One can see this logic at play in many German restaurants where the food is fresh and prepared skillfully. The customers have to wait longer than in an American restaurant, but the result (the meal) is often quite different in quality.
This is the case, also, with skilled plumbers, electricians, roofers and builders. Quality always comes first. Germans will wait much longer than Americans to receive the car they have ordered. They‘ll wait longer for the master tailor to make alterations to clothing or for the master shoemaker to repair fine leather shoes. The teenage son‘s bicycle, dropped off on a Saturday morning, will be fixed, but it may take a few days longer than stated. Quality. Schedule. Budget.