At our last company meeting, we watched a video about pit stops. Why? Because it was freaking awesome to watch! The Red Bull team set the record for the fastest pit stop in April of this year. The video shows it in slow motion for a minute and a half, and then the entire process in real time.
So, before you watch it, predict right now how long you think it takes to do a pit stop for a Formula One racecar. Remember it, we’ll come back after you check it out (you will want to put in on HD, and turn up your speakers):
So, did you guess around 2 seconds for the entire pit stop process?
Just a few years ago, it was much higher. But every second counts, and so these teams have made big changes in order to shave off the fractions of a second that might mean the difference between winning and losing a race that could be worth millions of dollars. And all of it happens live, in high definition, on TV where your mistake is broadcast worldwide and recorded forever.
Don’t drop the wrench, alright?
So why did we really show this in a company meeting? It’s a fantastic example of continuous improvement on a team, a key theme in our agile culture. Here’s some of the ways it’s similar to our Agile approach:
- The teams have a clearly understood objective. “Fastest pit stop possible” is pretty clear. Our teams’ goals are pretty clear too: Wow! our clients. We certainly don’t succeed every time; neither is every pit stop faster than the one before. But the arc toward wow-ness is definitely happening.
- Examine each iteration and learn from it. Red Bull practiced hundreds of pit stops each week to hone their craft. Our teams hold retrospectives every single week, deciding which aspect of the processes they use needs improvement most, and what they’ll do about it.
- Continuous, minor improvements add up to substantial change over time. When you start to improve a process, you’ll probably fix the biggest issues first, but each additional change you might make is usually smaller and smaller. To reach the best – a pinnacle like sub-two-second pit stops – you have to keep going for a long, long time to root out even the tiniest failures, things you never could have foreseen when you started improving the process. For us, probably the best example is our deployment process, which we’ve been whittling away at mercilessly for several years. Five years ago, it took months to methodically upgrade all of our clients from one version to another. Two years ago, it took several weeks. Now, we’re down to hours to do the bulk of them. Perhaps we’ll reach 2.05 seconds, eventually!
- Do things that are error prone more often not less until you eliminate the risk of errors. The article linked above notes that “every piece of equipment is used in at least 1,000 dry runs before it sees race-day action.” With our deploy process, we talked early on about doing fewer releases, because the deployment was so painful. We did precisely the opposite: we’re increasing release frequency to put even more pressure on that process. We now deploy our software hundreds of times each quarter across clients, which has been critical in driving improvement in the process.
This desire for continuous improvement is a core tenet of our Agile adoption: our culture pushes this so hard that we believe we are improving at a rate much faster than our competitors. In one month, or one year, it might not be noticeable. But over many years, you can certainly tune systems and teams to record-breaking levels. And to get “Wow!” from clients, 100% of the time, it requires exactly that sort of continued improvement over time, year after year.