The unusual hierarchy: My boss is my employee

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In HSE•AG's project teams, the company hierarchy is sometimes turned upside down. Michael Steck explains why it is quite normal for him that his superior currently works under his project management. He sees a whole range of benefits from a corporate culture that focuses on competence rather than on line function: delivering higher quality projects in less time, more personal fulfilment at the end of a busy day and enjoyment of work for everyone, are just a few benefits to mention.

Sitting just across, Felix Westhoff is a project team member and specialist for the development of the injection-molded consumables in my current project. This is in so far unusual because Felix Westhoff is the Head of Project and Quality Management at HSE•AG, which turns him into my superior.

All skeptical thoughts about my boss working under my direction as project manager, however, have been short-lived. The fact that the company’s hierarchy is upside down in a project is not the rule at HSE•AG, but it is also nothing out of the ordinary. It is rather a perfect example highlighting our corporate culture: The key factor that determines the role of an employee in a project team is not given by the hierarchical staircase of the company, but rather the specific expertise required to tackle a particular challenge.


The most suitable specialist

In this specific project, we are developing a new device for a global company targeting the automated sample preparation for next-level clinical analysis of human cells. The "vial consumable", a container made of plastic in which the cells are preserved after sampling, is essential for the economic efficiency of the analyses. As the vial will later be produced millions of times and sold all over the world its production must be extremely cost efficient. However, the primary objective of the development is that the handling for the user - in this case the doctor - is simple and intuitive, so that the cells can be stored and transported safely in the vial. Such user interaction always places high demands on the design of a consumable since user interactions can only be controlled to a limited extent or not at all from the manufacturer's point of view. Another challenge for this particular consumable is that it must remain compatible with many existing devices from the customer's large product portfolio in order to achieve a very high degree of automation in sample preparation and evaluation.

Because the design of a consumable must fulfil a plethora of functions and must be adapted to both the end user and the automation process, its development requires a comprehensive skill set. Specific know-how about the technological possibilities and limitations of plastic injection-molding is required. But it is more than that: a profound experience for the various applications is a great asset, too. This is precisely what Felix Westhoff - among others - brings into the company. Once his resource availability was confirmed, it was crystal clear for him, for me, and for everyone else, that he would take over the corresponding role as consumable expert in my project.


Effects on everyday work

In our company, thinking without hierarchies also manifests itself in the culture of discussion. It makes no difference whether I'm talking to an apprentice, a junior or the CEO. Everyone meets on an equal footing and debates at eye level. This has also great impact on my work: Firstly, we are faster because problems are addressed directly and no awkward political considerations are necessary. Secondly, the quality of our work is better because decisions are made exclusively on the basis of professional arguments, facts and analytical thinking and not on the basis of a hierarchy. And thirdly - and this is the most important consequence for me personally - I can fully unfold my competences in the project and achieve a maximum in a best-possible team structure. This is very motivating and ensures that I continue to enjoy my work.


Management exemplified in everyday life

The fact that work must be fun is not just my personal aspiration. At HSE•AG, the corporate value of "enjoyment at work" is even at the top of the list. These are not just fine words, but - as this example shows - are put into practice by the management team every day.



The author:

As Senior Project Manager & Mechanical Engineer, Michael Steck manages complex development projects for HSE•AG's international customers. As a mechanical engineer with a Master's degree from ETH Zurich, he acts at the same time as specialist for mechanical engineering tasks in certain projects. This interdisciplinarity and versatility enables Michael Steck at HSE•AG to make the most out of his organizational and technical skills which he continues to develop on a daily basis.


Michael Steck

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