From ”The Machine that Changed the World”, via case books like ”Skunk Works” and ”The Toyota way”, R&D practitioners and researchers have attempted to spread stories on what tends to work well for developing successful products. Many have read, listened and learned, but few have really excelled in getting the fundamentals right. In the automotive industry, many companies are now looking at Tesla Inc, which has focused on the key fundamental, supported by researchers, taken in part from the old learnings of the AeroSpace industry, and adapted to the new Silicon Walley boom in the new millennia. These are five of their key areas that all should learn from.
1 Shorten the distance between your customer and your engineers
In the short term, attentiveness to customer feedback, and having very short time between errors and their solution, is key. Customers can take problems, as long as they feel they are getting addressed quickly. Managing long term customer expectations requires communication of goals, which your customers can share and relate to, presenting solutions to their problems, or giving them teasers of the future. Also, customers agree to you collecting and analyse your customer data, if they feel it will improve their product. Continuously updating and improving the products build a stronger relationship over time.
2 Manage product/part complexity
Complexity is a silent killer. 100 % backward compatibility of new parts, continuous removal of unnecessary parts, carry over of parts between product models are key for hardware. The big challenge is however to build a software and electronics infrastructure that allows for maintainability and improvements. Having parameter-controlled updates rather than software builds reduce software complexity to single digit numbers. This is built on the core philosophy that all vehicles need very few selectable variants (5 colours, two engine set-ups), all equipped from start with all the hardware functionality you plan to make available during the product life.
3 Rapid internal communication
Cross-functional co-location of people who need day-to-day communication is key. This affects the way the organization is set-up, and the way the buildings you utilize are built. Smaller is better, big organizations tend to have bigger problems with communication.
“Organizational complexity tends to manifest in the product” – Elon Musk
4 Manage your technical platforms
One example is when the Model Y was launched on the US market in March 2020, it was the first to have the heat pump, utilizing excess heat from using the battery to heat the interior, increasing efficiency during winter with ~25 %. Since then, the heat pump has seen 9 revision changes, and has been installed in all the other models. Update and improve the hardware continuously, and manage the interfaces to other parts. This solution was developed for all models from start, with the complete product family in mind. One solution, less complexity.
5 Invest in your long term strategies
Investing in battery production and chemistry has proven a core area. The same goes for manufacturing technologies. They are both state of the art in the industry today, and have been clearly set strategies from 2014, communicated to both customers and investors. This has driven the recruitment of some of the world’s leading experts in these areas, the incorporation of some leading smaller companies, as well as the selection of suppliers and the location of factories.