Currently a business student in university. Looking for assistance in finding or developing a framework for a successful automotive design season next year.

Overview of the team:

  • We design, build, and race an open wheeled, single seat racecar.
  • We have requirements gathering, design, build, and test phases that are iterative.
  • We have 10-15 system team leaders for various aspects of the car (powertrain, drivetrain, electrical,chassis, etc.).

Just a bit of background. I joined this automotive design team last year, and noticed that the team was bogged down with myriad process-related issues. They had unrealistic deadlines, unproductive meetings, communication issues, slow and inefficient design updates, overall chaos, etc, etc.

I feel that this issue largely stems from a lack of a framework or way of approaching vehicle design...especially since no one has extensive experience in the industry or a serious interest in applying classroom knowledge to this project (as the sole business student, I feel responsible for this aspect of the team and I would love to apply some project management tools to this).

As a second year business student, I am aware of the major methodologies applied to software development like Agile and Scrum. Is there anything specific to engineering design? Where should we start in trying to improve the team for next season?

  • 1
    I think your problem is not to identify the right framework, the real problem is to apply a framework to this project an the team structure. Could I be right?
    – Tob
    Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 19:45
  • I've lightly edited your question to help it be on-topic. In particular, I've removed off-topic requests for off-site resources.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 1:01
  • 1
    I largely agree with Tobias. This isn't a question of tools; you just need to pick some process as a starting point. The Toyota Production System is probably not a bad place to start.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 1:03
  • You might want to visit a few other collegiate automotive design teams at other schools. Most management insights come from people who have observed a lot of different organizations and workplaces, and interviewed a lot of persons.
    – rwong
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 6:54

4 Answers 4


Your Problem, Restated

I joined this automotive design team last year, and noticed that the team was bogged down with myriad process-related issues. They had unrealistic deadlines, unproductive meetings, communication issues, slow and inefficient design updates, overall chaos, etc, etc.

Once you pare away the non-essentials of your question, at the core is what you already know: your group lacks the formalized processes that will allow it to function as a team. Estimation, meeting facilitation, communications planning, and cycle times are all things that are central to the practice of the project management profession.

The application of project management principles, formal frameworks, and process controls are how you implement project management practices within your organization. The details of what you implement are less important than that you implement something; otherwise, as you yourself state, the results tend towards the chaotic.

Choose a Framework; Apply Controls

Which framework you choose matters, but it matters less than the application of formal controls and processes to your project. There are certainly classes of framework that are more geared towards manufacturing (e.g. Lean or Six Sigma), or towards iterative engineering (e.g. Scrum), but they all share a few things in common:

  1. You need to formalize your mechanism for estimating and scheduling. Even if it's wrong, you need a starting point.
  2. You need a formal project plan for how to run the project.
  3. You need a formal communications plan for how the team will communicate internally and externally about the project.
  4. You need a formal charter that invests someone (presumably the project manager) with the the responsibility and authority to address process issues.
  5. You need someone with the respect of the team (and in some cases the delegated authority) to facilitate meetings effectively.

None of the things listed are tied to a given framework. They may be implemented differently across frameworks, but they are all essential aspects of any well-run project.

  • 1
    Thank you. I appreciate you clarifying my request and providing a thorough and helpful explanation of your reasoning.
    – alincoln
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 2:29

As an outsider, I've learnt some management methodologies FROM the automotive industry, that have been adopted by the software development industry.

An option could be to give a look at these two books related to automotive management:

They deal with the mass production, but from the lean production point of view, so maybe they can address some of the issues you're rising (e.g. unrealistic deadlines, communication problems). They also treat the design and building of a prototype (like the Prius).


Considering the fact that you have some knowledge of Agile and Scrum, it could be interesting for you to read about eXtreme Manufacturing. You can start from here.

eXtreme Manufacturing borrows the basic Agile principles from Scrum. First and foremost, it leverages small, cross-functional Teams, which have a Product Owner and Scrum Master. XM is structured around Sprints to help develop functionality in vertical slices that build overtime.

Like Scrum, XM makes development transparent through tools like a Scrum board and a product backlog. It also borrows the concept of tracking process improvements by using Velocity. And, most importantly, it relies on the Lean concept of continuous improvement by employing Sprint Retrospectives and the Happiness Metric.

Scrum provides the basic structure for XM.

Joe Justice and his Wikispeed team have shown that it is possible, in only three months, to build a functional 100 mpg car prototype:

  • Acceleration (0-60 mph): < 5 seconds
  • Weight: 1,404 pounds
  • Top Speed: 149 mph

Joe Justice called this approach eXtreme Manufacturing to pay tribute to eXtreme Programming (XP) as developed by Kent Beck in the late 90’s.

You can try to improve the team for next season by combining:

  1. Scrum Organization (Roles and Responsibilities, Sprints/Iterative Design, Make Work Visible, Measure Velocity, Continuous Improvement/Lean)
  2. Object-Oriented Architecture (Modular Components, Contract-First Design, Design Patterns, Re-use and Inheritance)
  3. eXtreme Programming Engineering Principles (User Stories, Pairing and Swarming, Test Driven Development)

Think about this list as just a set of tools. Learn more about these concepts. After that, you will be able to choose which can be useful and adapt eXtreme Manufacturing to your particular situation.


Systems Engineering is the discipline that arranges efforts so that the outcome of the project (end product, end-system, service) meets the expectations of the customer and the shareholders of the project.

In the particular case of automobile development, a similar approach can be defined, but Systems Engineering discipline is not easily grasped from books and requires some experience to be effective and efficient.

Concurrent Engineering is another methodology, used in the automotive and other industries. CE and SE are not mutually exclusive with each other. One is related to design definition (process) and CE is related to inter-team data communication (between design teams, and manufacturing, and marketing, etc).

Concurrent Engineering helps teams (companies) arrive at the final product faster, and relies on IT infrastructure and well functioning teams (that use the infrastructure).

As for project management side of it, any tool can be used, but a web-based tool would be most suitable for a university team.

Above, I've mentioned some methodologies that you are probably already familiar with. However, unfortunately team improvement/development and motivation, does not have a simple solution. It's quite a matter of common commitment.

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