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Tesla Agile Development: Product Management at its Best

Tesla Agile Development: Version 8.0 Software and Product Management at its best.

Last week I received the version 8 update from Tesla.

For those of you unfamiliar with how updates work with Tesla and the Model S or X, your car connects to your home wifi and then every month or so you get great new features downloaded.

In my case, since I purchased my model S one year ago I have received autopilot (the car accelerates, brakes and steers on its own based on the road and vehicles around it), summon (automatically opens my garage door and backs the car out for me) and constant updates that have improved small comfort features and fine-tuned autopilot based on the data sent back from the entire Tesla fleet.

The result? Every few months I get a better car and my satisfaction and level of delight with the brand goes up.

Some time in the very near future all cars will be like this. Once you have experienced it you’ll never want to go back.

With Tesla’s version 8 software they delivered over 200 new features, including these highlights:

  • Temperature monitoring when the car is parked for a long period of time. If the car starts to get too hot the air conditioning automatically goes on, ensuring that the car is the right temperature when you return (and that pets or children left in the car are safe!)
  • New media player, including very fast loading of album/cd covers and a much more user-friendly audio system overall
  • Autopilot improvements, including better feedback for reminding you to keep your hands on the wheel (it isn’t completely self driving yet!)
  • Auto hiding of the control icons at the top of the screen so that you have a larger map all of the time on the screen

So how is Tesla able to deliver great new functionality so rapidly?

Most likely the way that Tesla is doing this is by using a software development methodology called Agile (there are many kinds of Agile such as Scrum, Extreme Programming and Lean.)

The way that Agile works is that rather than planning huge new releases with a lot of features that come out every few years, instead the software developers work on small batches of development called sprints (usually a 2-4 weeks in length).

Agile uses very sparse documentation (user needs are expressed in terms of “user stories”, oftentimes hand-written on an index card), and the software developers and product managers talk through what the user really is trying to accomplish rather than taking a lot of time trying to write everything down.

Development then goes off and builds working software rapidly which is tested in parallel, and the result is that features get completed and provided to customers much faster.

Each sprint can be released on its own (Tesla does this with security and very small feature releases), or they can be released every few months as a major release such as the new version 8.0 software.

Tesla uses this as an advantage to push innovation.

While their competitors are busy pre-announcing cars that won’t arrive for years, Tesla is delivering the new features now.

For example, Porsche announced their Model E all electric concept car last year, which they bragged at the time will go zero to sixty in 2.5 seconds and have a range of over 300 miles. Porsche will deliver this car sometime in the next few years (estimated to be 2020, but no firm date).

In the meantime, Tesla released the Model S p100D, which was just released, can already go zero to sixty in the same 2.5 seconds and has a range over 300 miles. And Tesla’s car is a sedan compared to Porsche’s concept sports car which won’t be here for years.

NOTE: Porsche’s approach on this is a new case study we have added to our Optimal Product Management and Product Marketing course about the pitfalls of pre-announcing!

Tesla uses Agile development and delivery as a huge advantage over almost all other car companies

Few car companies deliver software updates for their vehicles, and if they do it tends to be once every year or two. These updates have to be installed at the dealer and often only fix bugs rather than provide new features that increase customer satisfaction.

Car companies are going to have to figure out how to attempt to compete with this, and most likely they’ll adopt Agile and the same methods that Tesla is using. However, their company DNA is used to updates only every few years, and their current manufacturing and development is burdened by doing things “the way they always have.”

The result is that until they figure out how to do this Tesla is going to eat their lunch.

One thing is for sure, with Tesla Agile development redefining how car companies have to compete we’ll all benefit from better and safer cars sooner rather than later.

 

Learn More

If you would like to learn more about Agile development methodologies, take our new training course: Agile Excellence for Product Managers and Product Owners.

Download the first two chapters of Agile Excellence for Product Managers the book that inspired our new Agile course here:

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5 Responses to Tesla Agile Development: Product Management at its Best

  1. greg Oct 6, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

    It will be interesting to see how durable a differentiator frequent updates will be for Tesla. Somehow, I expect they will benefit from it for many years to come.

  2. Phil Oct 10, 2016 at 5:19 pm #

    My guess: Getting the traditional auto manufacturers to accept Agile releases will require a significant change in the corporate cultures, which are very entrenched.

  3. James Stellpflug Oct 11, 2016 at 9:06 pm #

    Valid point Phil… And I am really curious to see how future innovations in business models will progress for Tesla. Will they actually change the auto buying industry further in even more innovative ways.

    • Dave Van Leeuwen Nov 3, 2016 at 1:38 pm #

      Regulators also pose a threat to the Agile innovation that Tesla is attempting to implement. See the opposition to interned auto sales in Utah: “Tesla waging car-sales fight before Utah Supreme Court” http://www.sltrib.com/news/3864167-155/story.html

      • Brian Lawley Nov 3, 2016 at 1:58 pm #

        You are spot on Dave. The dealers are doing everything they can do to try to stop direct sales to customers because they are scared and know that often dealers don’t add value to the sale. And because electric cars require so much less maintenance (no oil changes and on average 600 less moving parts that can fail) the car dealer business is going to go through a rough time.

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