- Make the requirements less dumb
- Try very hard to delete part of the process
- Simplify or optimize
- Accelerate cycle time
Recently came across The Everyday Astronaut’s interview with Elon Musk while scrolling through Twitter, and thought it was brilliant. During the interview, Elon breaks down SpaceX’s 5 step design and manufacturing process for building the Starship—a fully reusable, two-stage-to-orbit super heavy-lift launch vehicle that is the world’s tallest and most powerful rocket ever built, with more than twice the thrust of the Saturn V (wiki).
The steps seem so obvious and simple, but simple and obvious can be hard.
Below are notes pulled from the video on the 5 steps.
1. Make the requirements less dumb
Elon: Your requirements are definitely dumb. It does not matter who gave them to you. It’s particularly dangerous if a smart person gave you the requirements because you might not question them enough.
Interviewer: Yea, you might take it as like gospel. Like, “I have to do this thing.”
Elon: Yes, Everyone’s wrong, no matter who you are, everyone’s wrong some of the time… Also, whatever requirement or constraint you have it must come with a name, not a department. Because you can’t ask the department, you have to ask a person. And that person who’s pulling for the requirement or constraint must agree that they must take responsibility for that requirement. Otherwise, you can have a requirement that basically an intern two years ago randomly came up with, off the cuff, and they’re not even at the company anymore, but it came from a department that no one currently agrees with.
2. Try very hard to delete part of the process
This is actually very important. If you’re not occasionally adding things back in, you are not deleting enough. The bias tends to be very strongly towards let’s add this part of the process in case we need it, but you can basically make “in case” arguments for so many things.
If you’re adding things back in, you’re clearly not deleting enough.
3. Simplify or optimize
The reason it’s at the third step is because it’s very common, as possibly the most common error of a smart engineer is to optimize a thing that should not exist.
Why would people do that? Well, everyone’s been trained in high school and college that you gotta answer the question, convergent logic. If you tell a professor “your question is dumb”, you’ll get a bad grade, you have to ask the question.
Without knowing it, everyone has a mental straight jacket on. They’ll work on optimizing the thing that simply should not exist.
4. Accelerate cycle time
You’re moving too slowly, go faster. But don’t go faster until you work on the other three things first.
If you’re digging, you know, your grave, don’t dig it faster. Stop digging your grave..
Now, I have personally made the mistake of going backward on all five steps multiple times. On the Tesla Model 3, I automated, accelerated, simplified, and then deleted.
An important principle
“Another important principle is that you really want everyone to be Chief Engineer. Everyone as Chief Engineer means the people need to understand the system at a high level to know when they are making bad optimization.”
Watch Elon breaking these steps down below.
Here’s a quick video (2:13 minutes) cut of Elon breaking it down/