In engineering circles, an interview of Elon Musk a few months ago has created quite a few ripples. Elon Musk expressed himself about his engineering philosophy, mainly in the context of SpaceX. This article for example summarizes his views: ‘Elon Musk’s Design Process Starts With Making Things ‘Less Dumb’‘
The 5 principles defended by Elon Musk are the following:
- Make the requirement less dumb
- Try to delete part of the process and of the design
- Simplify or optimize (and don’t optimize something that should not exist in the first place!)
- Accelerate cycle time (but not before you have sorted out the 3 first principles)
- Automate the design process to move more quickly through the design cycles.
Those principles seem founded quite in common sense, although of course they are very hard to implement as experience shows. In my world of large industrial projects it is a constant battle to try to simplify requirements developed over decades and comprising of layers of knowledge and experience. No surprise that a newcomer like SpaceX can do better without the institutional history.
What I find particularly interesting is the fact that Elon Musk recognizes that automation as a way to accelerate iteration today needs to be an intrinsic part of engineering approaches.
Digitalization provides new possibilities and we definitely need to re-interrogate the traditional engineering processes to take advantage of the new capabilities made available, simplify and produce more straightforward designs.