An enormous, long-term development project to increase the speed of a communications network by a hundred or even a thousand times is never an easy job. Every generational shift has led to internal battles within Ericsson.
“The crucial question is how to go about developing new technology in a company that is already successful,” Uddenfeldt says.
In his day, even Åke Lundqvist was skeptical about GSM. He worked hard to turn his unit, SRA, from virtually nothing to a leading participant in the first generation of mobile telephony. Why should he go for something new, difficult, expensive and highly uncertain when business in the analog sector was improving all the time?
“It was the same process with 3G,” says Uddenfeldt. “Why was there such a hurry to create a successor to GSM? There is a human need to sit back after you have made a great effort. So when the GSM profits began to pour in, why should we keep pushing things along at the same pace?”
One step further
This was exactly the situation when talk turned to what would come after 3G. “After every success, the important thing has been to go one step further. This is not a question of killing off what exists, but rather building on the gains you have made. It means moving into the new and unfamiliar … And every time it has been really hard work,” he says.
Westrin describes the challenge in a similar way. “It is about daring to challenge the processes all the time, to find the bottlenecks and constantly improve quality. The hardest part is challenging an existing organization with processes it has been using for a long time. What do we dare to change without destroying something important.
“When we have developed an approach that works well and that we are proud of – to then accept that we are not working as well as we should, that is really hard. It can’t be us and them; it has to be all of us together. We together have to produce the processes and products that work.”
One accepted method is to see what other people do. That is why Westrin pursues contacts with other industries, visiting them with her colleagues to learn how they solved similar problems.
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn