Elon Musk: billionaire CEO of SpaceX, SolarCity, and Tesla
SpaceX has made a name for itself as the low-cost supplier in the aerospace industry. With SolarCity, Musk has funded the largest installer and financer of solar panels for consumers and businesses. With Tesla Motors, Musk has tried to revamp the way cars are manufactured and sold while building out a worldwide fuel distribution network at the same time. Where Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to…well…save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation. He´s an inventor, celebrity businessman, and industrialist able to take big ideas and turn them into big products. As his ex-wife, Justine, put in, “He does what he wants, and he is relentless about it. It´s Elon´s world, and the rest of us live in it”. But, how is his World´s Planning?
I would love the following words help and encourage planners and schedulers our there to keep working hard in their companies, whatever industry is. So, keep reading.
How Musk plans his projects
In regards to time, Musk may well set more aggressive delivery targets for very difficult-to-make products that any executive in history. Both his employees and the public have found this to be one of the more jarring aspects of Musk´s characters. Musk has been pilloried by the press for setting and then missing product delivery dates. It´s one of the habits that got him in the most trouble as SpaceX and Tesla tried to bring their first products to market.
Elon is optimistic by nature, and it can feel like he makes calculations for how long it will take to do something based on the idea that things will progress without flaw at every step and that all the members of his team have Muskian abilities and work ethics. Musk might forecast how long a software project will take by timing the number of seconds needed physically to write a line of code and then extrapolating that out to match however many lines of code he expects the final piece of software to be. It is an imperfect analogy but one that does not seem that far off from Musk´s worldview. Everything he does is fast. He is authentically in a hurry.
Musk´s approach to planning
Asked about his approach, Musk said:
I certainly don´t try to set impossible goals. I think imposible goals are demotivating. You don´t want to tell people to go through a wall by banging their head against it. I don´t ever set intentionally impossible goals. But I´ve certainly always been optimistic on time frames. I´m trying to recalibrate to be a little more realistic.
I don´t assume that it´s just like 100 of me or something like that. I mean, in the case of the early SpaceX days, it would have been just the lack of understanding of what it takes to develop a rocket. In that case I was off by say, 200 percent. I think future programs might be off by anywhere from like 25 percent to 50 percent as opposed to 200 percent.
So, I think generally you do want to have a timeline where, based on everything you know about, the schedule should be X, and you execute towards that, but with the understanding that there will be all sorts of things that you don´t know about that you will encounter that will push the date beyond that. It doesn´t mean that you shouldn´t have tried to aim for that date from the beginning because aiming for something else would have been an arbitrary time increase.
It´s different to say, “Well, what do you promise people?” Because you want to try to promise people something that includes schedule margin. But in order to achieve the external promised schedule, you´ve got to have an internal schedule that´s more aggressive than that. Sometimes you still miss the external schedule.
SpaceX, by the way, is not alone here. Being late is part for the course in the aerospace industry. It´s not a question of if it´s late, it´s how late will the program be. I don´t think an aerospace program has been completed on time since bloody World War II
Silicon Valley´s genius team
Dealing with the epically aggressive schedules and Musk´s expectations have required SpaceX´s engineers to develop a variety of survival techniques. Musk often asks for highly detailed proposals for how projects will be accomplished. The employees have learned never to break the time needed to accomplish something down into months or weeks. Musk wants day-by-day and hour-by-hour forecasts and sometimes even minute-by-minute countdowns, and the fallout from missed schedules is severe.
SpaceX´s top managers work together to, in essence, create fake schedules that they know will please Musk but that are basically impossible to achieve. This would not be such a horrible situation if the targets were kept internal. Musk, however, tends to quote these face schedules to customers, unintentionally giving them false hope.
Where a typical manager may set the deadline for the employee, Musk guides his engineers into taking ownership of their own delivery dates. He doesn´t say, ‘You have to do this by Friday at 2 p.m.’ He says, ‘I need the impossible done by Friday at 2 p.m. Can you do it?’ Then, when you say yes, you are not working hard because he told you to. You´re working hard for yourself.
If you want to find out further about Elon Musk, I recommend you to read ELON MUSK, by Ashlee Vance.