Polishing cars and software


From the excellent cc flickrstream of stevelyon Thanks.

I live in Ladenburg, Karl Benz’s home town, so there is probably something slightly sacrilegious posting about the fabulously awesomely brilliant new Nissan GT-R.

I read the metacool blog regularly,  he is one of the leading thinkers on design, and his blog is full of interesting thoughts on design, from cars to software.

This comment from the Chief Vehicle Engineer of the Nissan GT-R is relevant far beyond the confides of car design.

“When you’re making something of high quality, you have to polish it a certain number of times.  This is actually a number of trial and errors.  When you think about how much you can polish something in a four-year development period, you’re talking about how many times you can do trial and error and then speed becomes the defining factor.  When you all share that speed as a team, you can polish a car like never before.  It’s that simple, really.”
                        – Kazutoshi Mizuno, Chief Vehicle Engineer, Nissan GT-R

The metacool blog goes on to say.

This speaks to one of the fundamental aspects of design thinking as it  relates to the process of innovation: iterate, iterate, iterate.  I often relate “business by design” to “business as usual” by using a sporting analogy:  business as usual is about efficiency and accuracy, about swimming as fast a race as one can.  And there’s a time and a place for that.  Business by design, in contrast, would be a swim race where you where rewarded based on the number of laps you could get in within a certain amount of time.  You want to do lap after lap, because with each stroke through the water, you gain the opportunity to learn something new, to try a different approach.  The sum of all those small learnings and insights — together with the occasional big leap — is what ends up being called innovative behavior.

But I like Mizuno’s notion of polishing more than I do that of laps.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Keep trying for perfection even though you know it will never come in a full sense, but with each try some new learning emerges.

So how quickly can you polish and iterate?

We need to apply this thinking to business processes too. Polish, polish polish.  It is rare that something is perfect from the start. The software industry and its users need to get better at small but continuous improvements. Innovation requires constant effort and application, it isn’t something you do once a decade. Big ideas are made great by constant polish.

There is a refreshing lack of hubris in Nissan’s approach, they have just quietly got on with building something quite remarkable.  It is high time that the enterprise software industry learnt the power of this attention to detail. A little more modesty wouldn’t hurt either.

(reposted from my Gartner blog)