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Team WIKISPEED: Developing Hardware the
Software Way

A great story combined with a fundamental problem, is how Martin Kupp, ESCP Europe, describes this case, co-written with Linus Dahlander, ESMT European School of Management and Technology, and Eric Morrow, University of Oklahoma.

‘The story itself is genuinely interesting,’ says Martin. ‘An individual software developer with no prior car manufacturing experience takes up the challenge to compete with large corporates and well-known scientific institutions in the $10 million dollar Progressive Insurance X Prize competition. At the same time, the case explores a fundamental problem that large (and often small) companies are facing: how can we become faster, more innovative and more open?’ Here, Martin explains why he wrote the case, how he came to join Team WIKISPEED, and why less strategy and more passion might be the secret to success.

Rapid changes

I was looking for good material for the last class of my innovation management course. I had covered the fundamentals in innovation and R&D management but wanted to end the course with an outlook on recent developments and challenges. Executives were telling me they were coming under more and more pressure to develop faster and be more customer oriented. I realised that the traditional concepts in innovation management, for example, the stage-gate process, were rapidly changing and these companies needed new solutions in order to continue to succeed.

This case is a great story about a little company, Team WIKISPEED, that innovates with tremendous speed. I thought it would help students and executives alike understand cutting-edge changes in innovation management.

Less strategy, more passion

WIKISPEED is an open source team founded on agility and open innovation. The best way to learn how they work is to simply sign up! So I joined the team. Through team communications I knew that the protagonist, Joe Justice, was coming to Paris to give a speech at the UN and I contacted him shortly before his trip.

Joe is the heart and soul of Team WIKISPEED. He is the creator of the eXtreme Manufacturing method, and founder of Team WIKISPEED: an all Scrum volunteer-based green automotive prototyping company, with a goal to change the world for the better. Its story of rapid innovation is born from Joe’s interest in competing in the Progressive Insurance X Prize, a $10 million dollar innovation contest aimed at inspiring the development of energy-efficient cars. The principles Team WIKISPEED uses to sustain constant innovation come from the Scrum and Agile principles Joe used in his software development career.

While the team grew naturally, it was Joe’s passion for the topic that was an undeniable force. This is true for a lot of great projects. Less strategy, more passion seems to be the magic sauce!

Scrum and 'eXtreme Manufacturing'

Scrum is, at its heart, a way to organise a team, or even better, a structured way for a team to self-organise. Scrum arose from a frustration in innovative companies with the command and control and reporting issues inherent in a structured hierarchy, familiar in any large company. In other words – think meetings! Scrum allows employees to focus on work and less on reports and meetings. Key principles of Scrum are to organise work in short cycles; to get close to the customer through user stories; to let the team decide what it works on, how long that work will take, what they need to get the work done; and to measure their own performance.

While Scrum is the way you organise the team, ‘eXtreme Manufacturing’ is the way you organise production to keep the cost of changes low. Joe based his ‘eXtreme Manufacturing’ approach on ‘extreme programming’ (XP) as developed by Kent Beck in the late 1990s.

I would say that they are complementary and clearly different from more conventional approaches; it is the context and strategic objectives that you have to consider. There isn’t a single ‘silver bullet’ solution to innovation management or product development.

Priorities, respect and advice

At WIKISPEED everything moves fast and is     self-organised. Therefore, it was sometimes hard to get the right person on the phone when writing the case. But this is quite typical: while the case might have a high priority for the writer, it often doesn’t for the organisation you are writing about! My main piece of advice for other case writers is to treat the time people inside an organisation give you with the utmost respect. And to produce something that will help the organisation understand itself. In short, the case writing process should be useful to the organisation as well as the author. 

Teaching objectives

The main teaching objective was to expose students to the problems that may confront legacy industries like the automotive industry and how entrepreneurial thinking can lead to innovative solutions. I have used the case in a variety of ways: in courses on innovation management, R&D management, product development and entrepreneurship. It has always sparked a lot of discussion and controversy in the classroom! 

Gaining insights

The easiest way to gain insights into Team WIKISPEED is to join it! Team WIKISPEED also has its own YouTube channel and you can find a lot of independent media coverage. On the academic side, a lot of work on product development and Agile development is currently being written.

An insider's view: Joe Justice

Team Lead and CEO at Team WIKISPEED, Joe Justice, explains why he wanted to be involved in developing this case and how he has benefited from the experience.

A primary goal of our work is to share what we are learning if it is useful, and this case study is now shared with every new team member as they join. It has been tremendously valuable in building strong advocates out of the interested public; simply sharing what we are learning is essentially the advertising for a nerdy, passionate, volunteer-driven do-tank like us.

In addition, the self-understanding that becomes possible when working with a precise and professionally inquisitive team like Martin, Eric, and Linus, is like couples therapy for an organisation, helping all of us to make the best with what we have and tune up the awesome higher. 

An invaluable experience

Eric, Linus and Martin downloaded my best understanding of the way we work, and then encouraged me to think deeply on aspects that we simply just do or future states we hadn’t run into yet. Their direct observations were fantastically useful and as a result we updated our practices for the benefit of our team members. This in turn led to better team member retention and higher morale scores during our weekly retrospectives. Participating in this case study has been invaluable.

Taking part

If your organisation would self-describe as ‘closed’ and publicity isn’t valued, participating in a case study may need a logical business case as to why you should take part, and the potential value of growing in a different direction. However, if your company would self-describe as ‘open’ and publicity or public understanding is a known benefit, there is absolutely every upside to partnering with professionally inquisitive academics to better understand your company and its opportunities.

Joe Justice is Team Lead and CEO at Team WIKISPEED, Scrum Trainer and Coach at Scrum Inc., a TEDx speaker, and coach for Agile hardware and manufacturing teams around the world. Joe consults and coaches teams and companies on implementing Scrum for both software and physical manufacturing.


Case details

Team WIKISPEED: Developing Hardware the Software Way
Martin Kupp
ESCP Europe
Linus Dahlander
ESMT European School of Management and Technology
Eric Morrow
University of Oklahoma
Ref ESMT-813-0139-1
Also available:
Teaching note

Ref ESMT-813-0139-8

About the authors

Martin Kupp is an Associate Professor for Entrepreneurship at ESCP Europe, Paris, and a Visiting Professor at EGP Business School, Portugal, and ESMT European School of Management and Technology, Berlin.
e mkupp@escpeurope.eu

Linus Dahlander is an Associate Professor and KPMG Chair in Innovation at ESMT European School of Management and Technology, Berlin.
e linus.dahlander@esmt.org

Eric Morrow is a Digital Marketing and Innovation Consultant, and Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Oklahoma.
e ericmorrow@gmail.com

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