Dr. Julia Oberhofer
Case and interview by Flavia Bleuel
In our series Leadership in Action you can get inspiration from leaders and their personal learning journeys. You gain insights into their challenges, decisions and leadership behaviours.
Earlier in his career Sebastian Benndorf was leading the (final) assembly at VW and Bentley. Today he is responsible for the planning department and therefore designing the new Dream Factory for future electric cars at Bentley, UK. The Dream Factory is a core part of Bentley’s company BEYOND100 strategy – the ground-breaking plan that will ensure Bentley is exclusively electric and end-to-end carbon neutral by 2030. It is one of the biggest changes in Bentley’s history and a holistic revolution after building petrol cars for more than 100 years.
Sebastian had an epiphany in a former project that shaped his leadership style and planning process for this new challenge. A necessary takt change for the production line, which often comes with volume changes or efficiency targets, was planned solely by the central department in isolation. There was no connection or integration of the people working directly in the line. But these people are the experts building the cars day by day. As a result, he experienced a huge resistance from the workers. The requested changes were not accepted. Furthermore, the changes were not reflecting the full truth out in production itself. A project without a happy ending.
The lesson he learned was: ”We have to change the way we plan and execute changes within our organisation. It is all about integrating the right teams at the right time without losing the disruptive approach”. So, he made the following decision: critical proposals for further takt changes in the production lines were built as paper prototypes in order to make ideas more tangible and gather feedback by involving the workforce directly. From early on in the process he tested together with the workers how to optimise their walkways, the utilisation and the processes of how to fit the parts. Their feedback was directly integrated to make the prototypes better. Financially it was no big investment at all to build cheap, low-resolution paper prototypes but it was a huge investment in listening to the needs and ideas of the workforce and the actual users of the processes. It was a big gain and helped to implement the change much faster, better, and more successfulwith a user-centered approach.
As a result, Sebastian has changed his way of integrating teams into projects. Before anything is built in iron and steel for the Dream Factory, it is tested with the users. And they went from paper prototypes to digital simulations. This helps to scale the project faster and to simulate the outcomes of ideas and changes in an adaptable prototype.
When Sebastian began this endeavour, he had to embody the role of a visionary because he was starting from scratch. The only given requirement was the size of the available space on site. For the first ideas he used 2D scribbles of the base structure, which he presented in slides to get the different stakeholders on board. 2D prototypes are good for the beginning of a project but can’t represent the full complexity and dependencies. Consequently, he switched to a 3D simulation prototype to give the users a more immersive feeling and therefore to be able to envision the future building. This also gave him the possibility to directly integrate the feedback from all stakeholders.
His goal is to directly optimise workflows, run simulation checks and make sure that the different parties can work hand in hand in a seamless value chain. It is always crucial to test the processes, flows and touch-points upfront before the complex planning of structure and tech infrastructure starts. Integrating everybody from the beginning creates a fantastic momentum with a journey everybody is fully committed to.
Sebastian’s vision goes much further. The 3-D simulation of the Dream Factory will also change the way people are getting trained. In digital training sessions with virtual reality equipment future employees can walk through the production lines, test processes, and get to know the specific work content. Every part of the car’s production processes will be in the final 3-D simulation.
Furthermore, the 3-D simulation will function as the virtual twin of the production site that will be built. Because of this, potential changes in the design of the production site can be tested in the virtual environment without interrupting the processes in the production site. Sebastian describes this as “simulating changes in the virtual twin rather than having an open-heart surgery”.
As a leader he had to embrace uncertainty and create and constantly communicate a clear vision in order to make everybody part of the journey. Sebastian also needed to foster new collaborations with tech & software companies and build a system of trusting the technology and the new suppliers. He is investing a lot of energy and thoughts into integrating the different stakeholders into the new planning processes and into upskilling the existing workforce.
Sebastian Benndorf says, “my team is looking forward facing the upcoming opportunities and they are happy to take over new responsibilities.”
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