Automotive’s New Reality: Keeping Offsite Teams On The Same Page Just Got Harder

Thursday, January 14, 2021

#Quality    #Team Integration

In the past decade or so, the complexity of managing a global team became exponentially more difficult. Teams were partially dissected, shipped offshore in multiple directions for (unrealized?) cost avoidance whilst software grew exponentially (e.g. upwards of 1B lines of code) AND multiple standards for functional safety, cybersecurity and systems engineering became increasingly mandatory. Keeping that team coordinated required a large project management expense, which usually comprised a small army of quasi-babysitters that almost parroted a circa-2009 Verizon commercial while asking about engineering progress: “How ‘bout now?” … (pause) … “How ‘bout now?” Even then, when Chief Engineers inquired if the commitment would be realized, [s]he received an inaccurate answer followed by lots of last-minute firefighting to inevitably launch ontime-but-overbudget-and-mediocre-quality. So in the past five years, OEMs have emphasized a paradigm shift from Nike’s NKE -1% tagline of “Just Do It” to a required “Just Do It Better.”

But then the pandemic hit and corporations woke-up to decades-old studies which proved that “work from home” equated to increased productivity – measured in 2020 studies from 13% to 47% more productive — combined with the lower overhead costs resulting in higher profit margins. Hallelujah! However, to achieve these savings, automotive design organizations are now realizing the complexity of having engineering personnel both offsite and on-page to the required engineering rigor.

Therein, three strategies that leading companies have been developing while scattering folks to the corners of the globe: 1) the just-in-time designing, 2) the unicorn of integration and 3) a team experience (TX) backlog.

The Just-In-Time Designing

Imagine a very typical safety-related Statement of Work with approximately two hundred (200) supporting requirements documents that reference several dozen professional standards (e.g. ISO, SAE), scores of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) requirements and a host of international constraints. Given that voluminous input combined with a distributed design team of several hundred people, the only way for a given offsite engineer to understand today’s task is to have it arrive as follows:

  • Prioritized Within Team of Teams: If electronics and software teams have interdependent needs, prioritizing them to work on items at similar times avoids lags due to dependencies.
  • Not Too Late / Not Too Early:  If the task arrives too late, the engineer starts to code from the customer’s requirements sans peer review, estimations, etc., which results in scads of defects and lost control of the project management. If one person has tasks stack-up early, the measurements of time-to-delivery become dubious and corners will be cut to avoid being the bottleneck. Also, too many confusing and boring standards at once will confuse or overwhelm most engineers.
  • Not Babysitting: Babysitting can be accomplished by a functional manager, which requires labor by both the supervisor (“Here is how you should be doing this next task”) and the worker (“Here’s is what I’m doing”). That results in inefficiency, especially as projects get larger, thereby multiplying the number of workers needed and the associated babysitters.

All of this equates to the need for “just-in-time designing” strategies akin to the lean manufacturing tactics from classics such as The Machine That Changed The World or The Goal. Akin to an assembly line, avoiding bottlenecks or inventory stack-ups with remote engineers helps to decrease operational costs, confusion, impediments, etc.

The Unicorn Engineer

Per the previous strategy, to have tasks arrive at the exact required time requires a complex understanding of the integration of multiple, overlapping standards in concert with the customers’ technical needs. For instance, in most projects there is an early need to “build-in safety” or “build-in” security via the associated standards (i.e. ISO 26262 and 21434), but also meet the customer’s prototype delivery to test vehicular interactions and subsequently show that proper systems engineering was conducted aligned with Automotive SPICE® (a.k.a. ISO 33000). Being able to align the prioritization of all these tasks requires the Unicorn Engineer: someone with deep understanding of all the stakeholders’ requirements, the product’s underlying technologies and the associated superset of tasks. One such person (a.k.a. “the unicorn”) is nearly impossible to find, so a better strategy is to look for a subset of internal expertise (e.g. technical subject matter) with leadership capability and augment that knowledge with outside expertise (e.g. standards consultation). That strategy should ask, “What do we know? Where do we need help? How do we marry the two?”

The Team Experience Backlog

As a 2016 article in strategy+business magazine states, “When a software interface is poorly designed — like the software that employees use at work — it not only guarantees a poor [experience], it diminishes capabilities in the company. A poor user interface sends a message to employees that their time and commitment have little value, and that … the problem is their own fault. Then leaders wonder why their people don’t innovate or embrace change, and why it is so hard to execute the company’s strategy.”

To combat that, the corporation must have a backlog of improvements to drive better global usability – or Team Experience (TX) — for the aforementioned “Just-In-Time Designing”. Think of this as applying the philosophies of User Experience (e.g. usability) to employees. Not only must the offsite tasks arrive on time, the instructions (and/or the ability to seek help) must be intuitive. This TX backlog should also be prioritized by the likely return on investment, and must be tested with employees via metrics to ensure the ongoing usability improvements and goals are realized.

Otherwise, the offsite employees will be off-the-same page.



Do you need to improve your automotive product development, to increase efficiency, or to comply with ASPICE and Functional Safety? You are at the right place.