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Wikispeed - Doing Awesome with Agile

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Wikispeed founder and business process consultant Joe Justice recently spoke at the Wellington, New Zealand, AgileWelly meetup. His talk was about the work that WikiSpeed have been doing using Agile techniques to build an international volunteer network to solve tough problems in society, with the motto of "Rapidly Solving Problems for Social Good”

The first problem they have tackled is the production of a 100MPG motor vehicle. They built a “safe, affordable, ultra-efficient vehicle” and had the first running, street-legal, prototype on the road within three months of starting the project.

He contrasts the Team Wikispeed approach, which draws heavily on practices taken from agile software development, with the traditional manufacturing approach. He gave the example of a pressed door mould in a traditional manufacturer costing upwards of US$10M, and said that “if an engineer discovered a way to make that door cheaper and safer the company would not want to implement it until they had amortised the cost of the original mould”.

He explained the way that Team Wikispeed achieve their rapid development cycle by making the vehicle completely modular, and using an agile process to reduce the cost of making change.

The Wikispeed website explains the process as follows:

  • From Lean software design we take the concept of using less stuff wherever responsible. This is based on the common-sense mandate to "use less stuff," which is then defined in a clear, applicable way by the contemporary software team.
  • From Extreme Programming (XP) we take the practices of pairing and swarming. These practices date back at least as far as the apprentice model but have been carefully defined to replace the need for most types of training and process documentation.
  • From Agile software development we take the principle of reducing cost to make change—changes in team, materials, machinery, and even goals.
  • From Scrum software development we take clearly defined team roles and responsibilities, which allows us to spend more time rapidly developing product with no nonworking (management only) roles and only two meetings.
  • From Test-Driven Development we start with failing tests and then develop solutions. This allows us to quickly identify if current work is not targeted to pass a test or is causing problems elsewhere in the system, which avoids waste.
  • From Object-Oriented Programming we take Contract-First Development, which enables the modularity of the WIKISPEED car and all of our solutions.

He described and showed photographs of the evolution of the vehicle preparing to enter the Progressive Insurance Automotive X-prize, a $10M challenge to produce a 100MPG vehicle. They tied for 10th place, out of 146 entrants from all around the world, most much more heavily funded than Team Wikispeed.

Since that competition they have continued development of the vehicle. Some facts about the current version of the vehicle can be found here. The vehicle sells for US$25000 and is commercially available today.

Justice went on to talk about how building a car is not the ultimate goal - rather they are launching a totally new approach to motor-vehicle manufacturing, using open-source and crowd-source approaches building on agile values and principles.

Development centres have sprung up around the world. They use a prioritised backlog of development activities and each centre has their own backlog items which are coordinated in the overall product backlog. Team members contribute based on their skill, knowledge and availability, and local teams self-organize to tackle the items in their backlog. The backlog can be viewed here.  Items in the backlog go beyond building vehicles into other areas of social good, such as vaccine distribution.

He ended his talk showing a picture of “a gorilla high-fiving a shark in front of an explosion“ and encouraged the audience to bring awesomeness to their lives, to get engaged by spending between two and four hours a week “rapidly solving problems for social good” either by joining team Wikispeed or by finding other ways to contribute to society.

The Wikispeed model takes agile beyond information technology, and aims to use these approachesto provide sustainable social benefits.

The video of his Wellington talk can be found here.  Justice will be delivering a keynote talk at the Agile 2012 conference in August.

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  • Innovation

    by Graham Perry,

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    It's good to see real examples of the process of innovation - the common misperception is that brilliant ideas come from one person. The agile approach demonstrates that a team and a process can drive innovation.

    Graham Perry

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