MCA Management Awards 2010: Platinum award plus operational performance in the private sector

Platinum Award winner, and winner, Operational Performance in the Private Sector category*

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

IBM with Brawn GP

Formula One racing is all about speed, and not just on the track. Teams spend millions of pounds on just two cars, which race only 18 times a year. Pace and precision in the design-and-build phase are just as important as track performance, especially as there are constant modifications throughout the racing season.

Each year's car must meet rigorous design regulations, yet be capable of modification throughout the racing season to deliver the best possible performance. This means that efficient 'product lifecycle management' (PLM) is crucial - managing each component from conception through design, modelling, manufacture and testing to installation and maintenance throughout the race season.

Despite a difficult period of organisational change, Brawn GP - the Northamptonshire-based team and constructor - was determined to create a competitive car in time for the start of the 2009 season. The team had committed itself to migrating to a new PLM and computer-aided design and manufacturing solution. But designers had to be trained to use the new tools with as little disruption as possible - particularly difficult when design has to continue in the tight window of time between each race, as well as throughout the closed season.

Brawn GP was also determined that its 2009 car should take advantage of some significant changes to the Formula One technical regulations - rule changes that presented an unmissable opportunity for smaller teams such as Brawn GP to gain ground on their more established rivals.

IBM provided a team of PLM consultants, but quickly recognised that the project was going to involve more than installing new software and tools. It was a chance for Brawn GP to transforming its processes and introducing new ways of working.

Managing a team of nearly 40 people, including Brawn GP staff and consultants from several technology specialists, IBM set out a phased programme that would involve a significant shift in the culture and structure of the organisation.

IBM worked to re-engineer processes within Brawn GP, while implementing the PLM solution and integrating it with the company's legacy software. Both systems were run in parallel initially and shared data. The 2008 car was designed using a mixture of the two systems, but by the time work started on the 2009 model, the transition to the new way of working was complete.

The IBM team worked to break down boundaries between design and manufacturing and introduce integrated, leaner processes right across the business. It divided manufacturing into two groups: a machining group and one that learned new computer modelling skills.

To manage the cultural change, there were weekly user forums, monthly management meetings and quarterly executive meetings to keep everybody informed. A Friday fish-and-chips lunchtime session with key stakeholders yielded many frank discussions and proved one of the most productive hours of the week. And every Friday morning, IBM's lead consultant took a walk around the site, accompanied by a senior executive or key stakeholder from Brawn GP, talking and listening to people in a more informal setting.

Faster manufacturing, relational design techniques and an improved ability to handle late changes all helped build a highly competitive car. And the proof of any motor-racing endeavour is out on the track: in car number BGP 001, driver Jenson Button (who has now left the team) won the 2009 Drivers' Championship and Brawn GP scooped the Constructors' Championship.

'We had to win the hearts and minds of our 200 design engineers and persuade them to work in a new way,' says Matt Harris, head of IT at Brawn GP. 'IBM won our respect and confidence quickly, and integrated so closely with our own staff that it was sometimes difficult to tell which members of the team were Brawn GP and which were IBM.'

The Platinum winner is the outstanding entry across all 14 categories. The 'winner of winners' also took the Operational Performance in the Private Sector Award.

TAKE-HOME TIPS

For the 2009 season, Brawn GP saw a chance to overtake its big F1 rivals by switching to a new computer-based components development and design system. Recognising the cultural and structural shift that this transition required, IMB worked to re-engineer company processes, running old and new systems in parallel until the transition was complete. The team introduced leaner, integrated production, breaking down barriers between design and manufacture. Forums, meeting and fish-and-chip lunches helped convert hearts and minds to the cause - handsomely rewarded by Brawn's F1 Drivers' and Constructors' Championship double.

- Work on the key influencers - find out who they are and get them on board early.

- Challenge traditional labour divisions - sharing insights and even training between different disciplines can boost performance.

- Listen - to make things stick, show you are open to feedback and criticism, too.

*Award sponsored by Mindbench

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