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How project management accelerates motorsport success

  • Update: 14/02/2021

What does project management mean to an unconventional industry like motor racing and high-performance vehicle manufacturing?

While race teams are often funded by wealthy people who see motorsport as a passion project, it’s still necessary to deliver something. The fact is the race will always run, whether or not your team is ready – and this is where project management becomes essential.

That doesn’t mean project methods are readily adopted by everyone: for some – such as analysts and designers who follow a technical methodology to design and develop components – having a framework for more general project management as well isn’t a huge leap. However, asking your team’s billionaire financier to join a meeting at each stage of a project is unlikely to be welcomed with such ease work.

Engineering and accidental project management
Motorsport often attracts very (ahem) driven people and many young engineers I meet want to work in Formula 1.

This exhibits what is a fairly common snobbery in engineering about what’s cool/not cool in the profession. Project management can be a victim of this: though it’s covered in engineering degrees as more of a by-product, it’s unlikely to be the first choice career for engineers determined to develop the next championship-winning engine.

However, despite being a trained engineer, I found I had the personality and soft skills such as communications, empathy and resilience, which took me to roles that valued those skills. Ultimately, I became an accidental project manager who “tooled up” with the relevant certifications, tools and templates.

Since then, I’ve been more interested in doing the “dot-joining” work, as this is so critical to getting things done and achieving success. This has worked well for me in motorsport, as people see I have consistent processes backed up by methods, including PRINCE2®. At that point, people start to think about projects and developing a project-focused mentality.

PRINCE2: putting project management in pole position
PRINCE2 has been an investment both in myself and what my customers get from me. So, how are its approaches relevant to motorsport?

  • Initiating a project - Motorsport engineering involves working with a lot of 3rd parties who are enthusiastic and just want to get going on things. However, PRINCE2’s initiating a project process gives a structure to the project before proceeding.
  • Manage by stages - There is a misconception about motorsport that it’s all champagne and endless cash; instead, resources and time can be scarce. PRINCE2’s manage by stages principle prevents wasting precious resources and getting ahead of yourself. For example, 2020 saw drivers testing positive for Covid-19 and being pulled out of races and even races being cancelled. Limiting your horizons is useful to manage external factors.
  • Learn from experience - Learning lessons is embedded in motorsport and manufacturing culture – from engineers and drivers debriefing to vehicle makers continually improving their products. Lessons are learned from a range of performance data, such as drivers’ heart rates and engine temperatures, and are passed forward to understand what went wrong and how to improve. The finishing line is always moving and you are judged only on your last couple of performances.
  • Tailor to suit the project - Extreme PRINCE2 tailoring is valuable at some points! For example, in-depth written reports for drivers – essentially athletes – is often a pointless exercise. You need to tailor communications for different parties and adapt them season by season as race team personnel changes.

Previously, I imagined PRINCE2 as useful for large governmental and IT projects. Studying and certifying in it has shown me how to tailor the guidance you need for your project.

Project management brings a level of balance to motorsport activities and – especially when working with engineers – having a recognized method behind you makes it easier to get people on board and persuade them that you’re actually helping rather than meddling in their work.

News by Ella Barrington – project management consultant and contractor

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