A good argument could be made that Formula SAE or Formula Student is less a competition about technical prowess and more a judgement on quality of project management.
In the end I think the argument is incorrect, it fails to place sufficient weight on understanding of the competition and how technical engineering knowledge should be applied to it. However, it is definitely true that poor management and team structure will undoubtedly result in only short periods of success, if any at all.
Management of a Formula SAE team comprises of the management of people, resources and technical direction to maintain the core positive attributes of the team whilst continually generating progress and pushing boundaries on every level. In this issue I’ll address the first component, people, with the other aspects addressed in later articles.
As with any organisation, people are the lifeblood of a FSAE team. However, unlike a normal organisation, the attrition rate of personnel is incredibly high in FSAE due to the student base of the team. This means that the maximum time an individual spends on the team is around 4 years, with the average much less than this figure. The challenge therefore becomes to maintain your capabilities, knowledge and culture with a very fluid group of people.
Some of these challenges can be addressed with infrastructure. For instance, to maintain team talent, a systematic recruitment process has been implemented to ensure the team is provided with a continuing stream of high quality individuals. This, in conjunction with integration of the program into some university subjects, results in increased team member longevity and better overall team talent. To then address knowledge retention within the team, an online wiki has been established with associated tutorials and training aids allowing the integration of established skills and knowledge into new recruits. It’s no use developing knowledge if it can just walk out the door.
However, some aspects of the team are harder to manage, such as culture. To provide a framework for people to operate within, the team has developed a vision, values and behaviours that are openly and often espoused. Collins and Porras (1994) described this as a ‘cult like culture’; I don’t like this phrase as it suggests that the group becomes close minded and exclusionary. However it is true that if you are not prepared to work hard for your teammates, actively seek out new knowledge and push to perform at the highest level, you may struggle to fit with the group. This culture has been critical in Monash Motorsport’s success, and our vision, values and behaviours help us maintain it.
Lying over the top of these more fundamental aspects of people management are the parts the teams sees day to day. The most obvious is our meeting structure, which basically describes the way in which information is distributed in the team.
The largest meeting is the team meeting, which everyone attends. The purpose of this meeting is to track progress and developments at a very macro level, distribute knowledge using presentations and discussions, and reinforce the expected values of the team. This meeting also allows team members to raise issues that they believe are not being addressed for management to assess.
Over this sits the management meeting, the most senior meeting in the team, where high-level issues are raised and the management makes group decisions as to the best direction of the team. Progress tracking is again mostly macro at this level, however individual sections are tracked to ensure total project progression is making required deadlines. The information discussed at the management meeting then flows into the section meetings, where individual part progress is discussed in depth and deadlines flowing from management meeting are handed out.
Working in conjunction with our meeting flow is our management structure, which separates responsibilities in the team to help ensure each individual has an achievable workload. Monash’s structure is reasonably rigid and this allows the team to ensure it is covering all bases, but it does change when needed, like this year where a manufacturing lead role was introduced to help reduce the high workload being shouldered by the chief engineer. Some people would argue that an even more flexible structure could increase the effectiveness of team management, as roles would be tailored to specific individuals. However, the balance must be struck between changing roles to fit candidates and covering all requirements/a clear and logical management structure. The team is therefore moving towards tailoring the management tree during the succession planning process, to ensure that new members are coming in well prepared to a role that fits their abilities whilst a comprehensive management structure is maintained.
These soft and hard elements of Monash’s management help the project to continually build a stronger team and maintain the most critical aspect of its performance. I’ll move onto to resource and technical goal management in the next two articles.
Edward Hamer, 2014 Team Leader