Can Agile and Lean Project Management Techniques Put You in Pole-Position?

Date: 
Friday, October 27, 2017
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Formula Student competition is a testing ground for the next generation of world-class engineers. Since its inception in 1981, more than 350 University teams from across Europe have developed young enterprising and innovative engineers to compete for pole-position. Pcubed supported the University of Hertfordshire’s team in their 20th year of competition, teaching Agile and Lean Project Management techniques to drive them to success.


In every year since 2010, Pcubed have proudly sponsored students from the University of Hertfordshire to take part in the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ annual Formula Student competition.  Having competed for the last 20 years, they are now the most successful team in the UK.

The team consists of approximately 30 masters and undergraduate students who each year take part in this International Design Engineering competition where they are tasked with the design of a single-seater race car.  They are assessed on the performance of their car, in a series of ‘dynamic’ and ‘static’ events; meaning that as well as their performance on the track, the team are judged on their project, finance management and business case viability.

In line with Pcubed’s Socio-Economic Strategy, we are committed to giving something back to the community, using the knowledge and expertise we’ve built up from over 30 years of worldwide engagements to provide new generations with the skillset to succeed. The University of Hertfordshire’s Formula Student team, UH20, reached out to Pcubed for guidance in project management. Given our subject matter expertise and the presence of a few keen motorsport enthusiasts in our ranks, we were more than happy to oblige.


University of Hertfordshire Formula Student UH20 race car in action

The Opportunities
It’s natural to assume that you can’t compare the design, manufacturing, assembly, testing and racing of a combustion-engine race car with the challenges faced day-to-day by larger corporations across a range of industries. On closer inspection, however, it became clear to us that there were strong parallels between the challenges and objectives identified by the team and those faced down in project environments throughout the corporate world.
 

  • Just as corporations seek to maintain or improve their position in the market, UH20 sought to hold on to their position as the top UK racing team in IMechE Formula Student
  • Manage a complex and demanding technical programme without clear controls and limited progress visibility
  • Maintain a collaborative team spirit and engagement with a large group of students from a diverse range of technical backgrounds and work commitments.
  • Adherance to strict budget and regulatory policies imposed by the governing bodies - IMechE
  • Build upon and establish new relationships with stakeholders – all of whom are “funding” the journey
    • The parent company: University of Hertfordshire
    • Numerous investors: Sponsors
    • The hundreds of suppliers involved: Supply Chain
  • Finally, to find an appropriate methodology to support innovative thinking in the face of long standing, complex technical issues

UH20 putting their designs to the test

Setting aside the fact that in our line of work we rarely get the opportunity to build our own car and put it to the test on world-class circuits through the dust-clouds left behind by the likes of Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso; on this project we nevertheless recognised the same challenges faced by our clients more widely.

From our perspective, Pcubed’s challenge was to ensure that the team utilised our expertise effectively, recorded their benefits and passed on their processes, experiences and lessons learnt to future project teams, ensuring a legacy of improved project excellence for years to come. This, we believed, would fulfill the IMechE’s ambition for Formula Student; to encourage more young people to take up a career in engineering1, and provide them with the transferrable skills necessary to make them industry ready.
 
To manage others productively: Lean and Agile management techniques tell us employees work smarter and better when they believe they have more decision-making authority and when they believe others are committed to their success.  By pushing decision-making to whoever is closest to a problem, managers take advantage of everyone’s expertise and unlock innovation.2
 
Our Solutions
Pcubed supported the UH20 team by implementing some fundamental Lean and Agile tools and techniques, helping the team to visualise their progress, collaborate and solve their problems independently, through data-driven decision making.

Lean principles promote creating more value with fewer resources, aiming ultimately to provide the customer with perfect value through a creation process with zero waste, drawing upon the insight and knowledge of those closest to the process to do so.3

In a similar vein, Agile principles teach us that teams must be empowered to make decisions, that collaborative and cooperative approaches between all stakeholders are essential to success and to develop small, incremental, iterative releases.4

Here’s what Pcubed did:

  • First aligning the team to a shared purpose and set of goals
    • This encouraged individuals to put trust into team goals and put them ahead of individual ambitions
  • Working side-by-side with the team to determine measures that would address the challenges and drive success
    • Implementing these onto a visual Performance Board provided a platform to promote engagement
  • Coaching and mentoring the team to facilitate “scrum” style meetings to drive progress, manage resource and capability as well as averting risks and issues
    • Clear roles identified in these sessions, encouraged healthy and open debate
  • Implementing a visual Kanban system supporting iterative vehicle development and visualisation of workload
    • This provided a platform for the team to commit to ownership of tasks and hold each other accountable


Pcubed guiding UH20’s team through their Performance Board

In isolation, no one solution provides a platform for teams to build success, however when used in concert with each other, they act as performance drivers, promoting a sense of Psychological Safety within a team environment.

Numerous published studies support ways of building agile and effective teams, adept at change.  Patrick Lencioni’s bestseller, ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’, effectively highlights how these Lean and Agile techniques can foster a sense of Psychological Safety5, by creating:
 

  1. A sense of trust among team members
  • Whereby team members are open about their vulnerabilities, mistakes and weaknesses and play to one another’s strengths
  1. An environment for constructive conflict
  • As opposed to veiled discussion, teams trust one another and are capable of airing opinions, having passionate and open debate, encouraging the flow of ideas
  1. Shared commitment
  • Having aired opinions, teams can buy in and make shared commitments
  1. Team Accountability
  • Having committed to a clear plan of action, team members do not hesitate to call each other out on actions and behaviours that serve at cross-purposes to the team’s ends
  1. Focus on the team result
  • Where the shared goal of the team is prioritised ahead of any individual or divisional ambition

 
A Bump In The Road
These qualities showed themselves to be in abundance in the UH20 team when during initial vehicle testing and with launch date imminent, they were faced with a potentially critical issue. A problem with the car’s oil pressure meant that when the car turned left, the engine would cut out – not an automotive feature likely to win you a race and not an issue UH20 could afford to ignore!

Pcubed facilitated a creative problem-solving workshop where the entire team came together and used each other’s knowledge and experiences to overcome a long standing and complex technical issue. By harnessing team spirit and following a structured methodology, the team designed hypotheses, tested a series of innovative solutions and measuring the success, which the team overcame on the first attempt.


UH20 experiencing some difficulties at Formula Student UK Silverstone

“The Pcubed team have in a very short space of time managed to understand the complexities of our programme, integrated with the team and brought in project management know how and expertise that have lit up our approach. The team now have improved visibility of progress and concerns, enabling timely action from team members to ensure not only that the team delivers their objectives on time, but also builds a platform for future teams to benefit from.”  - UH20 Formula Student Course Leader

 
Benefits
As a result of the UH20 team’s hard work, dedication and commitment, the team achieved a record performance for the University of Hertfordshire formula student team! The team hit every milestone, launching their vehicle with the support of Fifth Gear presenter Vicki Butler-Henderson and successfully competed in each of the 3 IMechE Formula Student events in the UK, Czech and Germany.

In the process, the team recorded their highest-ever points tally and picked up more trophies – 11 – than any other University. UH20 finished 2nd place overall in the Czech Republic and built upon its position as the top UK team. Their awards included:

  • 2x Class 1 Design Winners
  • FSUK Fastest Lap
  • Winner of Costing event FSUK
  • Best Use of Effective Communications FSUK
  • Jaguar Land Rover’s Art of Performance

 
UH20 Celebrating on podium at FS Czech Republic

Pcubed’s support for UH20; developing a structured approach to project, communication, cost and risk management had a direct role to play in the winning of the last three mentioned trophies. UH20 went above and beyond the call of duty; improving upon all their current sponsors and suppliers, whilst in the process creating new relationships and leaving a Project Excellence legacy for future years to come!

But don’t take our word for it, see what UH20 had to say in their self-produced video case study!

Pcubed have since had the pleasure of being invited back to the University to lecture the next cohort of Formula Students, UH21, as well as all other masters Engineering students. In this session, Pcubed helped the students to explore the impact, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is having and will continue to have on the world, the opportunities and challenges that it presents, and what this will mean for the way organisations collaborate with one another. The students were challenged with the same question we see our clients face - “What is the right Project Management technique for you?”

In response, at the University of Hertfordshire, we explored the integration of industry standard Systems Engineering and Project Management techniques as well as introducing the team to Lean and Agile techniques. These included exercises defining measurable objectives, developing project controls and a suite of performance measures, as well as facilitating some complexity estimating using Planning Poker®. The students immediately fed back the value they saw in the methods we taught them, and plan to apply these approaches for 2018’s competition.  We look forward to working with them next year to solve the next challenge.

Where could these fundamental Lean and Agile thinking techniques help your business foster a team environment conducive to continuous change, promote innovative thinking and put you in Pole-Position? 

References:
1 Imeche.org. (2017). About Formula Student - IMechE. [online] Available at: https://www.imeche.org/events/formula-student/about-formula-student [Accessed 12 Oct. 2017]
2 Duhigg, C. (2017). Smarter faster better. [Place of publication not identified]: Random House
Delivering major projects in government: a briefing for the Committee of Public Accounts. (2016). London: National Audit Office, p.9.
3 Asme.org. (2017). 5 Lean Principles Every Engineer Should Know.
4 project-management.com. (2017). 10 Key Principles of Agile Software Development
5 Lencioni, P. (2015). The five dysfunctions of a team.


Daniel Hamilton is an Enterprise Excellence Consultant for Pcubed, focused on blending Agile, Change Management and Lean Six Sigma ways of working. Daniel has over 5 years of experience in operational and project management and facilitating collaborative improvement processes that deliver value based improvements for a broad range of clients.


For further information on this article, how your business could adopt the Lean and Agile project management principles and Pcubed, please email info@pcubed.com.