Will It Make The Car Go Faster? A Crucial Work Design Principle From Formula 1

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There’s a lesson in the industry of Formula 1, by which I mean Grand Prix racing, either the most boring thing you’ve ever watched, or an amazing mix of technical skill, driver skill, and one huge political social gossip fest!

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The Goal is Clear

There’s one goal in Formula 1 – to win the world championship.  Call that the vision.  From there, the breakdown is clear:

To win the world championship, you need to win more races.  You get the latest version of this after every race, it’s like your monthly report going to your governing body.  Looks like this:

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To win more races you need the car to go faster.  After each race you get this, your weekly report equivalent – the standings of the race:

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And…to make the car go faster….you need to do things that…make the car go faster!  And for that, you receive this during every session, and after every session:

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Look at that detail – to the third decimal point, and this is just the surface.

A Hard Measure Can Improve Relationships

These are all measurements, and the timesheets let every single person who has been involved in designing and building that car to see how they are doing.  And this is in real time, telling them whether they are on track toward the goal of winning the world championship.

What does such a hard measure of performance allow?  Cross-functional collaboration!

Like your organisation, a fast car requires harmony between functions, in this case between functions like power unit, aerodynamics, chassis, tyres and of course the driver.  Each of these areas have their own measures – horsepower, airflow, grip for example…but these measures are only inputs at best into the real measure – does it make the car go faster?

So, this means that if one function decides to go for what Eli Goldratt would call a ‘local optimum’, say the power unit designs a more powerful engine that requires aerodynamic changes that will slow the car down drastically….this will be apparent at the very next timed session on track.

The clear measure of time itself, which is the goal of the whole system, lays a foundation for collaborative behaviour.  A hard measure can equal better relationships.

What About Your Organisation?

A little solid thinking will often reveal the equivalent of ‘will it make the car go faster’ in your organisation.  And remember, we are not trying to come up with a perfect measure that will allow Excel to decide whether we are decent humans.  Instead, we want a good enough measure that is optimised when the functions listen and learn from each other.

And this is because the point of the measure is to cause the right conversations.

Is your industry call-and-respond?  As in, the customer gets in touch when there is an issue and waits for resolution.  Calling the electrician is an example – with time being when the electrician leaves with the job done.  Putting in a development application is another, with time being from lodgement to when the customer receives the decision.  The question on the table here is simple: “Will it reduce the time from customer first contact to customer resolved”.

Is your industry sales?  “Will it increase our gross profit?” is your question (Gross profit BTW, not revenue.  Incentivising salespeople on revenue alone will cause the exact behaviours that make it hard for everyone else)

Is your industry change?  For example, in safety, or social services?  The question here is “Will this cause more of the events we want to see”?  and/or “Will this cause less of the events we don’t want to see”.

Remember, the question and data that goes along with it is there to generate the right conversations.  We don’t want the Accountability Hammer out and swinging, what we want is the equivalent of Formula 1 engineers and drivers saying, “what could we try to make a difference”.

This achieves real sustainable improvement more than the Accountability Hammer ever will.

Boundaries Are Needed

We need boundaries on these measurements.  All the examples I gave above are examples of Customer Experience – the purpose of the work from the point of view of those who are on the receiving end of it.

There are two other aspects of any such system that need to be taken into account, which gives us the three areas of:

  • Customer Experience
  • Cost (or Resource)
  • Sustainability (or Reliability)

Pursuing Customer Experience without regard to the other two sees us run out of money and build cars that break down, and, in the case of organisations, sees equipment and people breakdown.  Cost and sustainability must be taken into account.

To do this, we can also put some sort of measure onto Cost and Sustainability.  A good one for Cost, is, well, cost!  In particular, overtime and use of contractors (none of those fancy calculations of “this reduces time by 5%, which is therefore 5% less of salary.  Unless your 5% change sees 5% of salary actually reduce, or 5% more gross profit or people served …you’re making things up).

And for sustainability we have injuries & near misses, unscheduled leave, maintenance schedules maintained for equipment etc.

Again, remember the point is to generate great conversations, and in the case of these boundaries – to make sure they are brought into the conversation.

Visuals Are Good

We can draw it like this:

Which shows customer experience as the goal we’re trying to achieve as we work, and costs and sustainability as lines we won’t cross – they need to be held at least constant as we improve the customer experience (or perhaps they don’t – we might sacrifice reliability for a faster car, the point is to discuss it). 

There may be times where we put others in the box seat, like this:

And this:

Improvement Will Come Naturally With A Clear Measure

So, to create one of the necessary conditions for great discussions that lead to significant sustainable improvement, get yourself some data on your Customer Experience, your equivalent to a timing sheet, and put it on a graph like this:

This is an actual graph of a group that I worked with, with the crucial customer experience aspect being time from first call to resolved.  So lower is better. Note how we tracked the time for each event, not some sort of average at the end of the month.  This allowed the group to see and tell their story and get feedback within days of how changes were impacting the customer experience.

A Formula 1 team needs the time for every lap to see whether their ideas are wokring. Not some sort of average time for all laps over the weekend.

You can see the trendline, it went well.  Here’s the key – in working with them, I provided exactly zero process improvement ideas. None.  My contribution was to show them how to set up an environment that had clear information, how to interpret it, and how to have the right conversations on what it meant.

Once this was in place…the natural capability that we all have to make things better came forward and you can see the results.

You can do this too.

Go to the effort to find your equivalent of the Formula 1 timesheet.  Your equivalent to “will it make the car go faster”.  This simplifies what can often be very complicated work systems, as it returns focus to the goal – provide the expected customer experience, at no more than the cost expected and in a way that’s sustainable.

We want the hard work to be figuring out how to make that car go faster…and not trying to figure out what on earth we’re doing in the first place.

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