I lead a team of car designers and we work to a strict schedule. Our deadlines are acute and frequent. They involve other parts of the business and there’s no leeway for error. Productivity is vital: we must get the right quality of work out at the right time. These nine tips help that happen.
Focus and alignment
Both underpin good productivity. You and your team must agree on your objectives – and be totally focused on achieving them.
Personally, I start with a robust philosophy of what I want to see and communicate that as strongly as I can. My team have to work as individuals to be creative but also as an aligned team. If we’re not aligned, it costs time and affects quality.
My team know that when I make a decision, unless it’s challenged there and then, it’ll stand. We won’t change it unless external forces demand it or we, collectively as a team, agree it must be changed.
My team and I are highly critical of our own work. We ask ourselves ruthlessly: “Is this good enough?” It’s crucial to our productivity because the biggest delay is denial.
So be honest. If the quality isn’t there, it’ll show. The longer it takes you to acknowledge that, the more time you waste.
Don’t try to do everything yourself. I could, for instance, micro-manage our budget. But is that a good use of my time? No.
A good use of my time is creating a design philosophy, making judgements about what my team are doing and giving them clear direction.
Many directors end up doing a multitude of unnecessary jobs. My shortcut is to have people around me who are better than I am at doing the things I don’t need to do. That way, I can focus on the areas where I add value to the business.
Inspire your team
Don’t underestimate the effect of this on productivity. Sit down with your team and inspire them. Let them know what you’re looking for and excite them about it. Allow them enough movement to express what they feel is right. An inspired team makes a productive team.
Get on with it
This can be risky, but if you’re certain you’re right and your team agrees, just do it. A case in point: the Jaguar C-X75 supercar. Hardly anyone in my company knew my team were creating it until we’d virtually finished it.
That enabled us to do it quickly and make it absolutely as ‘right’ as it could be. We took the risk because we believed we were correct.
Thankfully, we were. The C-X75 was extremely well received when we unveiled it publically five years ago. It showed the world that we, as a business, could make something incredibly exciting.
Over the years since, it’s given our brand a huge amount of publicity – and it still is. The C-X75 stars in the latest Bond movie, Spectre.
Use your experience
Share shortcuts. Sometimes I recognise that a design won’t succeed and I tell the designer: “I’m going to give you a piece of advice. I can see what you’re trying to do but it won’t work. Trust me. I’ve tried it. Think about it from this perspective instead.” Guide colleagues around the hurdles you’ve already jumped over.
We create cars from scratch 25% quicker today than 10 years ago – even though they’re immensely more complicated now. Technology is the main reason.
When I started out, it took a day to render a car design on A2 paper, using chalk, Magic Markers and so on. If I wanted to rework it with, say, different headlights, that took another day.
Now I use an app called Sketch on my iPad and can share ideas with my team instantly, wherever I am in the world. Our team can do umpteen renderings a day using Photoshop. This gives us a greater number of ideas in a shorter time.
We make digital 3D models of our sketches using software called Alias and quick visualisations using Showcase. This enables me to make decisions faster because the images are so realistic. Indeed, a lot of cars in adverts are actually Alias models, not real cars.
The interchange of digital data increases productivity, too. When we create a full-sized clay model, it’s cut with surgical precision using data from the 3D Alias version. The process takes weeks now, rather than months.
As designs evolve, the engineers and suppliers can use our digital data to see how our changes affect them, which aids their productivity.
We also use CFD software – computational fluid dynamics. This time-saver gives us flexibility to try out more ideas. CFD shows you the movement of air over, through and under the car. It lets us fine-tune a car’s aerodynamics incrementally as we design it. We can do iteration after iteration and see the effect. It’s far smarter than constant trips to the wind tunnel.
Keep teams small
One of the best enablers to getting things done quickly is a small team. Efficiency is all about clear direction and involving as few people as possible. You see it in successful start-ups all the time: a small group of people focused on getting a great result.
Too much input impedes productivity. When I have an abundance of ideas to review, I’ll tell my managers: “Look, I trust you. Pare them down to the top 20% that I need to see.”
To give worthwhile direction, there’s only so many ideas you can mentally handle. A process to decipher and consolidate input is crucial.
Likewise, my team could be swamped by the sheer volume of available data. So my managers and I filter it. This sharpens the team’s focus and creativity.
I apply the same principle of selectivity when presenting designs to my bosses. They employ me to make correct decisions. So if I’m doing my job properly, I don’t need to show them lots of choices, just the best two or three.
Quite often people aren’t looking for choice anyway. They’re looking for the right solution. I hope this helps you find yours.
Director of Design at Jaguar