Elon Musk on Project Management, how he built a Starship mk1 in 4 months


Musk at the Royal Society admissions day in London, July 2018

Space exploration has been an amazing newish frontier that we are tackling in the past 100 years. Elon Musk's team at Space X has been hugely successful with Falcon 1, Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and are approaching first launch of Starship mk1. They just had a party where they hosted a Q&A session for Elon. One of the reporters asked "How did they pull off a ship build in 4 months time? Typically that is over a year to build a ship". His answers below were a great reminder on agile methods. How skewing toward speed can have a positive impact on the end line. How feedback loops and adjustments help. How non-process can have a big impact.

Elon's mantra: "If a Schedule is long, it's wrong, and if it's tight it's right". Apparently Elon is a bit of a poet.

He elaborated; "Recurved improvement with feedback loops. Did it make it easier/faster and still safe? Great, if not, stop doing that." This is a great reminder to reflect on your process continuously and quickly bring up inefficiencies with alternative solutions.

He continued; "If design takes long time, it's wrong. We have a strong tendency to over complicate things." We live in a society of over-complication. Sometimes the best thing is to not build something, but sometimes it makes sense. If you can get away with the easier thing, then just do that. This speaks to agile a lot. Small incremental progress.

Elon carried on further, "The best part is no part, The best process is no process". This reminds me of the phrase "people over process". Sometimes we get bogged down by all the things and forget if it makes sense. Sometimes reducing process is the best thing. Do we always need to introduce a new thing, or is there sometimes where we can remove things. It's smart to think about removal of process as well as adding something else.

Elon finalizes the talk with "My favorite question to ask in a meeting is, `What did you un-design?`". Interesting concept. He is making these rocket science problems simpler by just simply removing the over-complication of the problem.

Elon is a bold leader and has big dreams. We've seen his success time and time again. There are many people that disagree with his approach, but the results are there so I feel there is a lesson here.

To watch this bit for yourself checkout the link here.

Update:

I was chatting about this a bit in reddit, and one of the commenters also linked out to this video that was an interview with Elon where he also talked about PM there. Quotes of note;

"Question your constraints".

"assume they are wrong [to some degree]"

"The product errors reflect the organizational errors"

Find the video here.

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