I’m a designer and I’m also a fan of F1. This season has seen the revival of Vettel and Ferrari with both winning two of the four opening races. This is a stark contrast from last season when Ferrari went an entire season without registering a single win. So, what is their secret and how can we as designers and teams of designers learn from their rapid progress and current success?
Ease your own pressure.
At the beginning of last year Vettel announced his intentions of winning more races than the two set by Arrivabene, claiming “we’re not here to finish second”. These expectations produced excitement amongst fans but also created pressure from the outset, pressure that increased the more Ferrari’s winless season unfolded. As time passed, inquests into the team grew and team relations appeared fractured. Vettel became a subdued figure, rumours grew of Raikkonen’s future and Arrivabene appeared a dead man walking.
Fast-forward twelve months and we have a different story. This season Ferrari seem to want to arrive with as little pressure as possible. Press conferences are concise and no season expectations are ushered. When Vettel and Raikkonen do speak, they only heap praise on team efforts invested throughout the winter months. By acting cautiously, Ferrari are preventing internal pressure building, allowing the team to remain calm and focused on achieving individual and team goals. As Ferrari register race wins, expectations will naturally occur however these will be from external sources. Ferrari can simply ignore these ensuring they remain aligned to their season objectives.
Depending on the environment, design teams are often working under pressure. At the beginning of projects, we set expectations by announcing work effort. Effort translates to time and as time passes we realise we’re in danger of failing to meet initial expectations. This creates pressure to get the job finished. Pressure on individuals and pressure on the team leads to quick wins, isolated working, accepting solutions that carry technical debt and overall an environment that may have lost some of its usual enjoyment.
We can ease our own pressure in many ways. As individuals we can plan effectively, dissecting initial requirements into bite-sized chunks to fully understand effort. Lead time can be built in allowing a comfortable window for unforeseen change. Similarly, we can over-estimate efforts preventing pressure from building as project times elapse and deadlines draw near.
We can also increase tolerance of uncertainty and reduce project owner anxiety by explaining consequences and resolutions if we don’t happen to deliver on time. Providing contingencies or information on fast-followers provides project owners with a greater understanding of the current and subsequent deliverable. This reduces their pressure and in turn creates a more harmonious working relationship within the team. By easing our own pressure, we reduce external expectations reducing internal tension for both the designer and the design team.
Remove the hierarchy pyramid.
The team boss at Ferrari is Sergio Marchionne. Sergio carries the image of a hard businessman with colourful language. In 2016, he began a full investigation into Ferrari’s design factory to learn why they could not compete with Mercedes. After interviewing many staff, he decided the design team needed to be re-designed and restructured to be more flexible. His intention was to reduce the top-down hierarchy structure by freeing up the more creative minds ensuring all ideas were discussed making the entire group more open to suggestions. This would give the team a greater sense of ownership and responsibility and at the same time prevent some people from keeping their head down to avoid responsibility for failure. The result? James Allison, now former technical director, left his role and the restructure gave opportunity for all designers to put forward their suggestions. Every idea was welcome and discussed. Numerous features and innovations have been introduced on the new 2017 charger, propelling the team to two wins out of four.
Design teams can follow a similar pattern. By removing the hierarchy pyramid and encouraging equality among team members provides confidence for all designers to voice their opinion. In turn, this produces greater ideas and an open forum to confidently discuss thoughts and potential opportunities. It does not restrict designers based on job title. It also strengthens the bond between the design team allowing everyone to take responsibility for both success and failure of the product.
Praise each other, always.
During the 2015–2016 campaign, amidst all frustrations and disappointment, Ferrari continued to praise each other’s efforts. Vettel publically acknowledged the engineers were doing their upmost to improve the car and Arrivabene continued to praise Vettel’s efforts even though each persona’s may have suggested otherwise. These moments of appreciation are what kept the team together through the most difficult of periods and ensured not all confidence in each other was lost.
Now Ferrari are on the up and showcasing the sort 0f form expected from the prancing horse, their public praise of each other only acts as an additional motivator, striving the team to build on their current success.
As designers, we should not be afraid to praise and appreciate each other. Psychologists have long been fascinated by the effects of praise and its impact on motivation. Receiving praise releases dopamine making us feel good about ourselves which contributes towards innovative thinking. Employees that receive praise also feel more engaged and are less likely to leave a team or organisation.
Praise needs to be delivered in the correct way to be effective. Only genuine achievements should be praised and its important empty praise is not administered regularly. Designers that are praised for having a natural ability for something are less likely to have extra motivation than those praised for their approach to solving a specific problem. Although there is a fine balance when delivering praise, there’s no doubt it brings about very positive results for designers and the design team.
Never give up.
Unfortunately for Ferrari their previous season in F1 is on the record books for being one of their worst in the history of the sport. Regardless of this they continued to work hard behind the scenes. They recognised the need for change, they were bold and took risks, changing their design team structure and more importantly they never gave up. They continued to believe that they would be once more a driving force in F1 and defy most people’s expectations of not only closing the gap on Mercedes but creating one themselves.
As designers, we should never give up on a problem or on each other. We’re in a unique and privileged environment where our solutions genuinely impact people’s lives and make changes for the better. This is our motivation to work hard behind the scenes, fight through the hard times and just as Ferrari have shown, reap the resulting and deserved rewards that our efforts will bring.