An agile lesson from formula one


  • Darren Faraway
  • Published: 29 April 2019

The weight of expectation is upon any F1 team - to win, to improve, to survive. None less so than Mercedes, from the first ever grand prix (the 1955 British Grand Prix in Aintree), the Silver Arrows were victorious over Ferrari that opening season. Today, as we surpass the 1001 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Mercedes have achieved 1-2 finishes in all four of the four first races this year, already putting one hand on the championship trophies.
No program or project, agile or not, can hope to demonstrate more pressure to succeed, more immovable timescales, more budget balancing and resource issues than that of running and managing a Formula 1 team.
And yet Mercedes, the most successful team in the modern-day turbo hybrid era, can publicly embrace the agile principle of “fail fast and learn”, without the fear of blame. In Austria 2018, chief strategist James Vowles apologized over team radio to Lewis Hamilton and all those listening around the world, as he was the only front runner not to pit during a virtual safety car period, effectively losing Hamilton the lead of the race. His words were: "I've thrown away the win, but we still believe in you. Keep cool."
Accepting responsibility without the fear of judgement mirrors one of the core principles of the Agile Manifesto: individuals and interactions over process and tools takes time to develop. Achieving this level of trust, that is necessary when overcoming blockers, can help to deliver real change. 

Embracing failure is a healthy aspect of progress. Mercedes understand the value of failure and believe it to be an integral part of their organization. Our teams can take inspiration from this – if they can do it, so can we. 

To ensure sustainable progress within your teams, you need to create environments built on trust and honesty, that focus on the problem, not the person. This allows teams and individuals to feel empowered to experiment and test new ideas, creating high performing, stable team(s) that deliver high value outcomes.

For more information on agile, please contact Darren Faraway