Team Wikispeed: Developing hardware the software way

No. ESMT–813–0139–1
Martin Kupp, Linus Dahlander, Eric Morrow (2013)
Subject(s): Entrepreneurship
Keyword(s): Product development, agile manufacturing, disruptive innovation, managing creativity & innovation

In 2008 Joe Justice saw the announcement for the Progressive Insurance X Prize—a $10 million prize aimed at the (im)possibility to build a 100 miles per gallon (mpg) car to road-legal safety specifications. Joe persuaded his wife to use their college grad savings of $5,000 to pay the registration fee. He started the work alone but blogged about what he was doing and what he was learning. Through social networking tools like Facebook and WordPress bloggers who shared his interest learned about his project. Some of these people joined Joe in his endeavor to tackle the challenge. Only three months later, Wikispeed had been formed. It counted 44 members in four countries, and had a functioning prototype which was entered in the X Prize competition. In 2010 they came in 10th in the mainstream class, outrunning more than one hundred other cars from well-funded companies and universities around the world. Following the press reaction to the success of team Wikispeed in 2011 they were invited to showcase their concept car at the Detroit auto show, the largest motor show in the world. Their car, the SGT01, was put on display in Cobo Hall right next to Ford and Chevrolet. Wikispeed was contacted by more than a hundred people who were interested in joining the team as well as in ordering the prototype. By 2013, more than five hundred people had joined team Wikispeed. They had also sold nine prototypes. The immediate issue of the case study is the decision whether the team should use a pair of existing axles, cut and weld them together to the right length for the next iteration of their prototype or develop their own pair of axles from scratch. More fundamentally, this case study looks at the way team Wikispeed used tools from the world of software development like modularity, which they call object-oriented architecture, scrum, and extreme manufacturing (XM) to organize their innovation efforts.

Depending on the scope of the course, the following teaching objectives can be emphasized: to discuss ways of how to coordinate product development efforts in the absence of traditional hierarchies; to understand the conditions when distributed innovation processes can be used in industries with physical products; to understand the key elements of agile development: modularity, scrum, and extreme manufacturing; to examine the principles and potential limitations of agile development for hardware development; to understand the roadblocks to agile product development in large established organizations.

Teaching note Yes
Length 12p
Industry Automotive
Geographical setting United States
Size 300 team members (volunteers); $1million
Setting period 2013
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