DevOps Lessons from Formula 1 – Part 2

In part 1 of this series we talked about the DevOps lessons about teamwork and goals we could learn from the evolution of pit crew performance from the 1950’ to the modern-day courtesy of an amazing video on YouTube, with some inside information from a former Formula 1 pit crew member.

There are a number of other DevOps lessons we can learn from that video however!

First, Technology matters, and having the right tools (and automation) can offer incredible performance benefits. I think this is most clearly illustrated by the 1950’s engineer whacking away at the front right wheel nut with a large hammer for what seems like an eternity, compared to the high-speed pneumatic “gun” used by the modern pit crew.

Secondly, Processes and Procedures matter – the modern pit crew has a clear, optimised process and checklist of who is going to do what, in what order, to achieve their desired outcome. You can see this clearly in how the 3 team mates in a wheel changing team are “stacked” next to each other, ready to go as the car stops in the pits – “1 to gun the wheel off, 1 to pull it off, 1 to put it on and the first guy guns it back on”

Thirdly, Trust matters. In former F1 “IT Guy” Pete’s words:

“Oh, and the 2 worst jobs of all – The front jack man, who stands there with the trolley as the F1 car drives at them at 60mph hoping they’ll stop in time, and the lollipop man (who was our travel manager) who decides when it’s safe to release the car into the pitlane”.

The front jack man is literally putting his life on the line for the team – he must trust the driver (and the car) to stop in time. Likewise, the driver is putting his life on in the hands of the “lollipop man” that the pitlane is clear enough to allow him to re-join the race without someone shunting him into the pit wall at 200 MPH.

Fourthly, the old adage “Train hard, fight easy” is as true in F1 as it is in combat (and DevOps). In Pete’s words, again:

“You’re there from about 7 days before a race. Each day we would do “pit stop practice”. Everyone has a role, but pretty much everyone had practiced and actually done every role.”.

In DevOps we call this “Game Day” – rehearsing failure and disaster scenarios as realistically as possible (ideally by inject real faults into the system!) and making sure that we have the people, processes and technology to cope.

Lastly, and by no means least, we come to one of the questions asked from the audience at our recent event on “Building an Awesome DevOps Culture”:

“But the modern crew has 20+ people compared to the 4 in the 1950’s crew. Isn’t that going to be a lot more expensive?”

Yes, it is going to be more expensive… but not as expensive as losing.

This mindset goes to the heart of the problem with much of IT management over the past 20 years – that “controlling cost” is the most important thing to consider in every decision.

Similarly, the F1 team could make “controlling cost” the number 1 priority, still have a 4-man pit crew and still take 67 secs for every pit stop.

And they would lose every race, lose their sponsors and eventually go out of business.

A highly trained 20 person pit crew is the “cost of doing business” in modern F1. You can’t compete without the right people, processes and technology, working together in a multi-disciplinary team striving to achieve a common goal.

And this is as true in Formula 1 as it is in the modern business world, where new entrants are using new business models, new technologies and new IT operating models (i.e. DevOps) to disrupt your business.

Sure, cost control is important, which is why we look to DevOps automation and cloud hosting to give us speed and flexibility at a great price, but the most important thing always has to be “The Goal”, whatever that goal is for you, your team, your organization and your customers.

– Steve Thair (@TheOpsMgr).

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