ESCP Professor Martin Kupp joined open and rapid innovation carmaker Team Wikispeed to write a case study which was among the Case Centre's bestsellers for 2018 in the Entrepreneurship category.
Team Wikispeed is a volunteer-based green modular-design car prototyping company, whose founder was a competitor in the Progressive Automotive X Prize - a $10 million prize innovation contest aimed at inspiring the development of energy-efficient cars to road-legal safety specifications. In order to create its successful prototypes, Wikispeed innovated by applying scrum development techniques borrowed from the software world, also using open source tools and lean management methods to improve their productivity.
The immediate issue of the case study co-written with Linus Dahlander (ESMT European School of Management and Technology) and Eric Morrow (University of Oklahoma) is the decision whether the team should use a pair of existing axles, cut and weld them together to the right length for the next iteration of their prototype, or develop their own pair of axles from scratch. More fundamentally, this case study looks at the way team Wikispeed used tools from the world of software development like modularity, which they call object-oriented architecture, scrum, and eXtreme Manufacturing (XM) to organise their innovation efforts.
“The story itself is genuinely interesting, says Martin Kupp. An individual software developer with no prior car manufacturing experience takes up the challenge to compete with large corporates and well-known scientific institutions. At the same time, the case explores a fundamental problem that large (and often small) companies are facing: how can we become faster, more innovative and more open?”
A great story combined with a fundamental problem
“I was looking for good material for the last class of my innovation management course. I had covered the fundamentals in innovation and R&D management but wanted to end the course with an outlook on recent developments and challenges. Executives were telling me they were coming under more and more pressure to develop faster and be more customer oriented. I realised that the traditional concepts in innovation management, for example, the stage-gate process, were rapidly changing and these companies needed new solutions in order to continue to succeed,” recalls the Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Jean-Bapstiste Say Institute team member. “This case is a great story about a little company that innovates with tremendous speed. I thought it would help students and executives alike understand cutting-edge changes in innovation management.”
In order to learn more about Wikispeed, he became one of the more than five hundred volunteers who run it: “Wikispeed is an open source team founded on agility and open innovation. The best way to learn how they work is to simply sign up! So I joined the team.”
But it doesn’t mean it was a smooth ride for Martin Kupp, who is a Case Centre tutor and part of its executive board: “At Wikispeed, everything moves fast and is self-organised. Therefore, it was sometimes hard to get the right person on the phone when writing the case. But this is quite typical: while the case might have a high priority for the writer, it often doesn’t for the organisation you are writing about!”
Fortunately, Martin learned through team communications that the protagonist and eXtreme Manufacturing method creator, Joe Justice, was coming to Paris to give a speech at the UN and contacted him shortly before his trip. More importantly, the Team Wikispeed Lead and CEO was willing to be involved in developing the case, which he shares with new team members and called an invaluable experience. “The principles Team Wikispeed uses to sustain constant innovation come from the Scrum and Agile principles Joe used in his software development career. While the team grew naturally, it was Joe’s passion for the topic that was an undeniable force. This is true for a lot of great projects. Less strategy, more passion seems to be the magic sauce!”
Apparently, this mix also makes for great teaching: “The main teaching objective was to expose students to the problems that may confront legacy industries like the automotive industry, and how entrepreneurial thinking can lead to innovative solutions, adds Martin Kupp. I have used the case in a variety of ways: in courses on innovation management, R&D management, product development and entrepreneurship. It has always sparked a lot of discussion and controversy in the classroom!”