Monday, September 05, 2005

F1 Pit Crew: Excellence in Action!

Every Second Counts” is an article about McLaren Mercedes pit crews that taught me about excellence in teamwork. The article appeared in 2000 in Team McLaren’s (fan group) magazine Racing Line.

At that time (and now once again after a long dry winning spell) McLaren was known for its short pit stops that were under 7 seconds. For the uninitiated, the pit stop is when a car in F1 racing stops for fuel and tune up. F1 winners often win by less than a second’s margin, so a “pit stop strategy” is crucial to minimize the stop time, and have as few stops as possible while not compromising on the safety/drive-ability of the car.

The Pit Crew
A pit stop crew is made up of 21-23 members typically for every team (Ferrari, McLaren, Toyota, etc.). Each member controls their part of the job and their task is not just to minimize the time, but to close their work before deadline and not get in anyone else’s way. They are trained in what they do as at action time, no one is overseeing what they do at that moment. The beauty is in the coordination. The pit stop has to be designed in a way that the driver facilitates his team in facilitating him. If he is even centimeters off the stop mark, his team loses seconds in adjusting position – which eventually means that the driver loses. In a pit stop, everyone is the master of their own game – they are the expert of the part of the task they deal with. The lollipop man*, the jacks, the fuel-men, the type men – each person is the expert in their task.

Just meditate on the pictures above (I found better Ferrari pictures). These are two different pictures, but it’s hard to tell the difference. This is how well-trained the teams are. What’s in between the lines of the Racing Line article above is the understanding among the team members. If they were spending their times poking into others’ affairs, the pit stop would be better off in a normal gas station. My lessons:

  1. The driver may be the hero-leader, but when it comes to expertise on individual matters, he follows experts on the matter – such as the lead engineer. The final decision, however, is of the driver.
  2. A leader doesn’t have to individually handle all aspects of the work. That’d be poor leadership.
  3. If a leader’s people win, he wins. It also means he has to make room for them to win. Their loss would be his loss. And their victory is his victory. So no snatching the personal glory of team members! (Oh-so-common in business boardrooms.)
  4. An agile team is required to deliver the offer fast and first to the market. Just as an agile pit crew sends a car back on the track faster.
  5. If excellence is created in each part of the value chain, the final product is superior.
  6. ...But, it’s about the car, stupid! “Excellence in value chain” can’t be misunderstood to collect the best hodgepodge of parts. You can’t fit a jet’s tires to an F1 car no matter how much more excellent they are! Likewise a team can’t be made of disconnected stars (e.g. the Pakistani cricket team – a notorious collection of starts who don’t see eye-to-eye), or the components of a process can’t be unequal. There’s got to be a “balance” – assembly line style! This is especially relevant to employers who collect goodie-bags of talented people but not a team – what’s more tragic than a Stars’ War?
  7. Excellence is by intelligent design (and practice, and training). It is not a "magic moment" - a random chance.
  8. F1 engineering is very, very sexy. Why can’t we have service stations like that in normal life??

* “Huh, who’s a lollipop man? Are they vending candies in the pit lane??” Want to know who’s who in a pit crew? See this fabulous article.

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Sabaa said...

Loved point #6.