Elon Musk’s 5 Step Engineering Process

Nestled amongst this fascinating 3 part interview that Everyday Astronaut conducted with Elon Musk, is a nugget of engineering gold. Elon describes the 5 step engineering process he uses to build speed and efficiency at his companies(starts about 13 minutes into the video). Touring the under construction Starbase in south Texas, Elon shares the 5 steps outlined below as well as a wealth of information about Space X and Starship. Check out the video, after watching it, I have to see this place with my own eyes.

  1. Make your requirements less dumb: “The requirements are definitely dumb, it doesn’t matter who gave them to you. It’s particularly dangerous if a smart person gave you the requirements because you might not question them as thoroughly as you would if a dumb person gave you them.”
    • Any requirement/constrain needs to be attached to person, not a department. You can question a person, you can’t question a department. This ensures ownership and avoids “that’s the way it has always been done” thinking.
  2. Try to delete the part or process: Find what is truly required, “if you aren’t occasionally adding things back in, you’re not deleting enough. This bias tends to be very strongly towards, let’s add this part or process step in case we need it” It is easy to overengineer, but difficult to keep things simple.
  3. Simplify or Optimize: “possibly the most common error of a smart engineer is to optimize a thing that should not exist” Perfect the part or processes for quality before engineering for speed. Reduce or eliminate variation and defects in the process.
  4. Accelerate Cycle Time: “Go Faster, but not until you’ve worked on the other three things first… if you’re digging your grave, don’t dig it faster, stop digging your grave.” Now that you have a quality part or process, eliminate waste where possible to accelerate the process.
  5. Automate: Eliminate waste, don’t automate waste. “I’ve made the mistake of going backwards on all 5 steps, multiple times…” Elon describes a great example from the Telsa Model 3 battery pack manufacturing process that included a fiberglass mat that wasn’t even really required once Elon dove deep on the process.

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