Yesterday I visited Williams F1 headquarters at Grove in Oxfordshire.
There is a great deal the British public sector and some things private manufacturing can learn from the pursuit of excellence by F1 car makers.
The most impressive feature of the company was the total dedication of the workforce on winning. They all know what winning means. They wish to make the fastest cars on the grid. They define their own tasks in terms of tenths of seconds anything they do is assessed by whether it will help make the next car go faster.
The messages of focus, quality, honesty and innovation come from the top, led by the inspirational Sir Frank Williams. Each person has substantial delegated authority to make decisions and get on with their tasks, as speed is of the essence in all they do as manufacturers. They have to design and build a completely new car every year, and rebuild and adapt the cars for every race. Senior managers are kept informed and can make important decisions rapidly.
The production areas are clean. Although they are cutting metal and using cooling fluids and oil, they ensure all floors and work surfaces are kept dirt free.
The production areas are uncluttered. There is no stock of parts and materials and discarded components littering the workplace.
There is a can do approach. People do not say they cannot change one of the car’s components this week because they are going on holiday or a bit busy. If it needs changing for the race, someone in the team changes it.
All the money they raise is used to refine and improve the cars it is a kind of not for profit.
If you compare this with the NHS, the contrast is stark. I appreciate there is a big difference in scale, but only because the NHS tries to manage most things from the top down, declining to give real authority to individual hospitals and surgeries. The myriad performance numbers means people in the NHS do not know what wining means. Why doesn’t the NHS just ask every staff member to understand that winning means ensuring as many patients as possible get better as quickly as possible that should be their equivalent of building the fastest car? If men in a car plant can deliver a required standard of cleanliness,can’t we expect the same of staff in a hospital? If it is possible to combine senior management making or agreeing all the big judgements with rapid decision making and devolved authority at an F1 factory, can’t we do the same in the NHS?
Williams like all F1 companies have three time horizons for innovation. The first is as short as fortnightly in the season. They will introduce new features and adaptations for each race. The second is annually, designing a completely new car for each season. The third is longer term, introducing major breakthroughs by harnessing new technical ideas. Currently the industry is working on harnessing kinetic energy to supplement the energy generated by burning fuel in the engine.
The F1 teams are innovating, creating lighter, more aerodynamic and safer vehicles. Their use of materials and design can inform mainstream motor manufacturers in making lighter and safer cars, which will be greener cars. I was asked to lift one of the spare wheel and tyre sets for an F1 car. Remembering the weight of saloon car versions I was surprised at how easy it was to lift it was more like a heavy beach ball than a spare wheel. Most of the innovations to make an F1 car go faster would make a saloon car run more fuel efficiently.
Manufacturing has got much more efficient under the pressure of global competition, but larger traditional manufacturers can still learn things from F1 about speed to market. Which motor manufacturer can design and build an entirely new car in a year?