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Building a winning team - an Agile parable

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21 Mar 2016

Legendary motorsport engineer Ross Brawn left Ferrari at the end of 2007 to join up with the Honda F1 team. What he found was that the team was suffering from what Nick Fry would later describe as "almost open warfare", with chassis, aerodynamic, development and engine departments each blaming the others for the poor performance that season. Part of the problem was that the team didn't actually know why they were poor when they were, not could they explain why their performance was good on the few occasions that it was.

The owners in Japan believed that there was a "silver bullet" that Ross Brawn could bring to the team and just apply to provide a step change in performance, but that's not the case. In Ross's own words: "Formula 1 is a pretty challenging and complex business, and it's as much about culture, philosophy and approach as it is about some unique idea or solution."

What Ross Brawn was able to do was bring a frame of reference from his days at Ferrari. There was certainly a belief at Honda in Japan that the engine was competitive, but when Ross saw the numbers, it was clear to him that it wasn't. At least then there was a recognition of what needed to be done the process could start.

Ross Brawn then began the process of unifying the different departments around the goal of producing not a collection of components, but a complete car around a specific philosophy. That single goal created a one-team culture. 

Because the 2008 car had already been conceived and designed during 2007, there was no chance to redesign it. Followers of the sport will know all too well how, with a long lead time, Ross decided that the team should spend most of that year developing the 2009 car, to the detriment of the 2008 one. That decision allowed them to exploit loopholes in the regulations and develop the car incrementally to such a degree that, at the first pre-season test, the new car - now named Brawn after Honda pulled out of the sport - was a second a lap quicker than everyone else.

And that car took Jenson Button to the 2009 F1 world championship. The team was later sold and became the current Mercedes team who have now won two world championships on the trot with Lewis Hamilton. From small seeds....

Don't be like the Honda bosses; don't believe that there is a silver bullet called Agile that will solve all your problems. Building a winning team takes time, leadership, a vision, a philosophy and a proven approach, all of which need to come together to achieve success.

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