Chief Engineer

The term used at Toyota for the program manager with total responsibility for the development of a product line; previously known by the Japanese term shusa.

The chief engineer leads a small, dedicated team that creates the product concept, develops the business case, leads the technical design of the product, manages the development process, coordinates with production engineering and sales/marketing, and takes the product into production.

Chief engineers typically have strong technical skills that enable them to effectively lead and coordinate the technical work of engineers, designers, and other developers assigned to their projects. Their most important responsibility is to integrate the work of the development team around a coherent and compelling vision for the product.

However, chief engineers do not directly supervise most of the developers who work on their products. Most members of the development team report to managers within their own functional units (in Toyota’s case, body engineering, drive train engineering, test engineering, purchasing, and so forth). The organizational structure sets up a natural tension between the project leader (who wants to realize his product vision) and the functional units (who understand intimately what is possible).

This creative tension becomes a source of innovation as the project leaders continually push the organization into new territory according to market needs, even as the functional units try to keep the project leaders true to the organization’s technological capabilities. Also called an Entrepreneur System Designer or Deployment Leader.