The term used at Toyota for the program manager who has ultimate responsibility for the development of a product line. Previously, the Japanese term shusa was also used for this.
The chief engineer leads a small, dedicated team that creates the product concept, develops the business case, guides the technical design of the project, manages the development process, consults with the production engineering and sales/marketing departments, and puts the product into production.
Chief engineers often possess excellent technical skills, enabling them to lead and coordinate the technical work of engineers, designers and other developers assigned to their project. Their main task is to integrate the work of the development team in such a way as to create a cohesive and compelling vision for the product. However, chief engineers do not directly supervise most developers working on their products. Most members of the development team report to managers within their own functional units (in Toyota's case, for example, the Body Engineering, Drive Train Engineering and Purchasing departments). The organizational structure creates a natural tension between the project leader (who wants to realize his product vision) and the functional units (who know exactly what is and is not possible).
This creative tension becomes a source of innovation; the project leaders constantly force the organization to enter new territories dictated by market needs, while the functional units try to ensure that the project leaders keep an eye on the technological capabilities of the organization. Also called entrepreneur system designer or deployment leader.