Formula One Racing Team Speeds to Agile Development

Lotus F1's IT team made a technology pit stop and changed from a traditional application development strategy to an agile approach. Why shift gears? The pit crew and car designer wanted better data faster -- and IT wasn't about to pass on the opportunity.

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Mon, May 07, 2012

CIO — You hear a lot about organizations that must make split-second decisions or risk losing to competitors. Split-seconds? That's usually an exaggeration, unless you're talking about Formula One racing.

During the 90 to 120 seconds it takes to run a lap in Formula One, engineers in the pit crew use telemetry and business analytics tools to find adjustments to make on a car racing at speeds of more than 185 mph. Every fraction of a second does count, says Graeme Hackland, IT director for Lotus F1, a three-driver team co-sponsored by Lotus Cars and Renault. At a recent race in Bahrain, a Lotus F1 driver lost first place by just three seconds.

Lotus Formula One
IT can make a difference in a world where every second counts. Shown here: Kimi Räikkönen is making his comeback to Formula 1 with Lotus F1 Team. (Photo courtesy of Lotus.)

No one says IT was to blame—the driver said afterward that he used his brakes at the wrong moment. But Hackland says he wants to make sure that IT runs friction-free and that application development, in particular, goes better than it has. "If software is causing problems to end users or distracting them from their main job, that's the worst possible scenario for us."

Racing to Agile Development

Lotus F1 recently ditched traditional application development methods for agile development, including scrum and visualization. The goal is to produce better tools faster for both pit crew and car designers. Hackland says he also wanted to erase the perception that sometimes IT doesn't understand everything about how the pit crew and car designers like to work. "They wanted us to deliver more right the first time," he says.

The continuous communication between developers and users under agile development can clarify how the end product should look, feel and work much earlier in the process, says Margo Visitacion, an analyst at Forrester Research. But organizations underestimate the culture shock of going agile. "Collaboration is a lot different from taking requirements, throwing them over a wall and expecting perfection many months later," she says.

Lotus Formula One
Lotus F1 Team's 2012 car, the E20, has shown good pace this season so far, according to Lotus F1 Team. (Photo courtesy of Lotus.)

The Lotus F1 team has finished fifth on the Formula One racing circuit for the past two years. Now they're driving toward a championship within the next couple of years, Hackland says. There's "an outside chance" the team could take it this

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