Transatlantic Project Monitoring at Daimler and Uber: Everything Under Control Despite the Complexity Involved?

Image: Uber
Image: Uber

About six months ago, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche signaled his willingness to cooperate with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Now, the two have set a project in motion that will combine self-driving cars manufactured by Daimler and navigated via Uber’s autonomous driving platform. German engineering meets Californian disruptive spirit – and critical observers might ask: How exactly is that supposed to lead to a successful project?

A Tremendous Project Monitoring Challenge

Apart from the question of whether the corporate philosophy of both organizations is compatible, the complexity of the project comes with unique risks that few project management manuals are likely to address – a task of Herculean proportions for project monitoring!

  1. Geographic complexity: In this transatlantic project, Daimler is bringing its know-how in the development, design and manufacture of cars while Uber is providing its platform for autonomous driving. In order to ensure the project’s success, close cooperation between the teams is essential in both companies. And in this lies the balancing act that Daimler and Uber must manage: Stuttgart and San Francisco are exactly 9,268 kilometers apart – a geographical hurdle that further complicates an already complex project.
  1. Technological complexity: Autonomous driving isn’t a fundamentally new idea, but truly convincing practical applications – with the exception of Tesla’s autopilot – are lacking so far. It’s safe to call both Uber and Daimler pioneers in their fields, even if it’s been a while since Daimler last showcased its great pioneering spirit. Nevertheless: The project is designed to accomplish a technological innovation that has never before been attempted by either company. The cornerstone of the project is being laid in uncharted territory.
  1. Linguistic complexity: It may sound trivial, but language barriers have certainly caused projects to fail before. Daimler did make English its corporate language a few years ago, but it remains to be seen whether German engineers will be able to communicate smoothly with Californian startup geeks.
  1. Cultural complexity: The establishment meets the rebels, tradition meets disruption. That smells like an exciting combination between two companies whose histories and value systems couldn’t be more different. While Daimler emphasizes a culture of integrity, Uber encourages its employees to make "big bold bets" – a daring approach to taking new risks. If these values and corporate cultures are genuinely applied, they pose considerable conflict potential for the day-to-day workings of the project.  
  1. Political complexity: We won’t delve into the current political situation, but a certain degree of uncertainty can’t be ruled out 100% in this area, either. Of course, neither Daimler nor Uber can influence this directly – it’s just one of life’s contingencies!


90 Percent of Major Projects Don’t Meet Budgets and Timelines

Through their joint venture, Daimler and Uber are providing us with a highly interesting case study in international project management that raises the question: How can the whole thing be successful? Numerous studies deal with the failure of projects. Roland Berger, for example, came to the conclusion that nine out of ten major projects don’t meet their budget and timeline targets. On average, the actual costs exceed the budget by more than 55 percent – not to mention the indirect effects of significantly delayed project completion: from a postponed launch date and lost sales to disappointed customers, distraught employees and a negative impact on the brand and reputation.

Even if the reasons for failure can be manifold, a certain pattern emerges again and again: Project managers get lost in detailed planning and believe they’ll be able to gain control over the complexity involved through the granular elaboration of each individual project step. In the day-to-day workings of the project, however, this supposed method of control often turns out to be a toothless tiger.

Less Project Planning, More Project Monitoring

Even the most detailed project plan couldn’t do the complexity Daimler and Uber will have to contend with justice. Rather, it’s about practicing agile project management and reacting quickly and flexibly to current success chances and challenges. These can best be identified by involving all stakeholders. Mr. Zetsche, Mr. Kalanick, we think your project is terrific and recommend that you evaluate your chances of success based on regular surveys rather than relying on the subjective assessment of individual project staff.

In their Harvard Business Review article more than ten years ago, Nadim Matta and Ronald Ashkenas warned of relying on a project plan that may seem to take all applicable uncertainties into account, but rarely survives the day-to-day reality of the project on the ground. Your best option is to consult as many participants as possible at regular intervals and obtain a much more balanced overview of the success chances and risks of your project this way. Feedback from your employees, in turn, can serve as valuable input for your project manager, who no longer has to rely solely on himself, but can benefit from the swarm intelligence of the entire team.

Summary: Daimler and Uber have an exciting task ahead of them. In order to ensure that the planned autonomous driving project is a success, both companies should rely on the assessment of all project participants and not just the perception of select individuals. With regular online surveys about the project, the chances of success can be reliably evaluated. How do you implement your project monitoring? We look forward to your feedback – request a free live demo of Surwayne today and don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter!

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