The view of a corporate liaison in a global innovation team

Martin Frank driving the Volvo CE Excavator

The view of a corporate liaison in a global innovation team

Martin Frank is the corporate liaison with Volvo Construction Equipment in the Stanford ME310 project. Here follows an interview with Martin, where he talks of his role and experiences from working with the global collaborative innovation project.

Martin Frank driving the Volvo CE Excavator
Martin Frank driving the Volvo CE Excavator

Martin, you’re the project liaison from Volvo Construction Equipment; how would you describe your role?

I would say, that I have several roles in this collaboration. First of all, I’m somehow the customer, the receiver of the project result.
On the other side, we as Volvo would like to get the most out of the collaboration and therefore I try to be an active part of the collaboration as well. In this context, I’m a kind of enabler for the students. I offer my network and can open Volvo CE’s doors for the students to gain insights and get in contact with engineers, experts, specialists, customers, and operators.
The third part of my role is the coaching. Together with the teaching staff from the BTH and from Stanford, we try to coach the students to deal and accept uncertainty and ambiguity as something positive for the design process.
At this moment, our task is to support our team with the final wrap up and tweaking the presentation to deliver a WOW during the EXPE event!

What is the benefit for Volvo CE to take part in the ME310 collaboration?

We use this collaboration to explore! Especially with our, usually, very open and future-oriented prompt we try to bring the students out of their comfort zone, what can be challenging sometimes. The big advantage for us as a company is, that we can use the collaboration to take a glance at areas which might be of higher interest in the near future, without the bias of the big organization. For sure, some guidance and coaching are needed once the students have a certain direction but the very first phase of uncertainty and ambiguity brings some really useful information, both for the team and for us as a company. Another aspect I also want to highlight is, that the students bring in some new skills and another type of experiences based on personal favors but also based on the way they use technology today. It is very nice to also use the results of the collaboration to show what a group of engineering students accomplished during a course of 9 months.

Part of the support team for the ME310 project with Martin Frank (Volvo CE), Jenny Elfsberg (Volvo CE), Tobias Larsson (BTH), and Christian Johansson (BTH).

Volvo CE is a global company with collaboration going on with several of your sites; what can you both learn from following this collaboration and also offer support to the students?

Collaboration is key. Therefore, also the way of collaboration matters, especially when the team is distributed over several time zones. Social media and communication apps are doing a great job to provide basic communication where we can also hook on and be available, if necessary. Having the possibility to directly share information, take on a task or just checking in with each other and the team without the need of writing an official mail or arrange a video call saves time and increases efficiency, at least for the part is see. For sure, weekly wrap-ups are needed to bring everyone to the same page and set targets for the next stage. I’m always impressed how professional and focused these calls are and I guess, partly it is also based on the regular, minor communication via e.g. Slack. We bring these leanings back to the organization and try to prove the validity with some small test runs in the company.

After the project has finished, where do you take it from there?

After the presentation, we need to secure a transfer of the results towards Volvo CE, that’s typically my part. I need to identify the internal receivers and need to put more context around the results and findings of the team. In the most cases we need to take one step back and analyze carefully what part of the documentation, or result, we address to whom. Especially the insights gained and the overall research conducted in the early stage is invaluable for our organization. We learned from that past collaboration projects, that certain aspects are very helpful in discussions happening right now, while the bigger picture will be something we address towards our concept labs environment to explore the topic even further. I guess, that we also have certain aspects in this year’s results that might hit the construction site as conceptual prototype soon, what’s very exciting.

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