Within the racing community, the better you get at your job, the more dangerous you become to the overall process, but not in the context that your performance will degrade or you would become irresponsible. It means you become more likely to perform your tasks by rote than by working from a pre-described, documented process.
As you learn more about a specific operation or function, it becomes too easy for the team to become completely dependent on your performance. Let me explain. Within the framework of any race team, there are various people who are in charge of various systems and sub-systems of the car or the operation of the team. Depending on the size of the team, this may be a very specific area such as transmissions, brakes, engines, bodywork, suspension, rear ends, tires, logistics, and even the exercising of the team's supply chain. On a smaller team, one person may have to wear many hats and take charge of multiple related or unrelated components or sub-systems of the car and/or the operation of day-to-day administrative tasks. It just depends on the situation.
In my conversations with race teams, I will commonly ask the team to pick the most important component on the car. With the exception of the driver, the answer is almost a universal response; it is split between two components, tires and engines. To many teams, tires are viewed as a key component to remaining competitive.
I see no reason to argue the point. I tend to agree that tires are a key ingredient, but I don't agree to the exclusion of other components such as shocks, springs, brakes, aerodynamic components, and so on. They are all important. It is the integration of the multiple sub-systems into the whole that is really the key. We need to view the car from a systemic perspective and keep in mind the integration of all the various systems into the whole. But tires seem to get the most votes. If tires are so important to the performance of the car, then the team member or members who are charged with maintaining the tires and wheels have a very important job. Let's pick on the tire guys for just a bit.
The people in charge of maintaining tires are very valuable assets. If the job is making sure the tires are ready for the race, just what does that job entail? Short of mounting the tires, they are usually responsible for making sure the they are purged and pressures are set to the value the crewchief requests at any given time. They may be responsible for reading the tires as they come off the track and relaying this information back to the brain trust on top of the pit cart or standing in the dirt at any given track across the country on a Saturday night. This is a key position on any team, regardless of the size of the team. The team is relying heavily on this individual to perform an important and very specific task. So what is the problem?
Let's just suppose this individual does a great job working on the tires and this is noticed and appreciated not only by your team, but also the owner of a different team. The other team owner offers your tire guy a better deal. Your tire guy is conflicted, but he has a family to support and this is a better deal, so he leaves. He could leave for a number of other reasons-he hits the lottery, gets married, or in the worst case gets hit by a bus. But the real issue is not why he leaves-it is just that he is gone. When he goes, the knowledge of a highly important process, the process steps, and the knowledge of how to execute the process, goes with him. Racing of any type is a series of interrelated processes. Tires, in this case, are just the example chosen. It could be any process within the team.
This ex-team member has learned what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, in relation to tires. Now he is gone, and all that important process information is in his head. What is the next step? Obviously, your team gets to start over. You may have another team member that can double up for the short term, but that may cause capacity and capability issues. Please remember that out of chaos opportunity is born. This should be viewed as an opportunity to improve your team. That could have been the view of an opposing team, remember?
This scenario is no different than if you had a great transmission, rearend, or brake guy and that person left. Your team is now on the learning curve all over again, possibly with a new guy. You may even see a reduction in your overall capacity to complete tasks. The new guy will most likely need some help from another team member, who probably will not complete his tasks on time due to helping the new guy. There is a good chance that on- and off-track performance may suffer.
How can you stop this brain drain on your team? Short of paying your crew a good deal more money to prevent them from ever considering an employment change, in reality, you will always have team turnover. You need a better plan than just throwing money at it. You need to develop well-defined documentation on how any given process within your team is accomplished.
This is clearly a danger when a process is people-based and the activities that govern the person or persons within that activity are committed completely to memory. This rote method of process performance is not completely bad; you cannot have each member of the team always looking into a manual to see what their next step is going to be. On the other hand, when a new person joins the team, it is very beneficial to have a description of what their job is and some sort of order established.
This is nothing new. Documenting how things are done is a very common practice. In fact, documentation is one of many steps toward reducing variation within any process. Developing standard workflows or documenting Standard Operating Processes (SOP) should be a prime consideration. This is not that different than developing checklists of all the activities that have to be accomplished prior to the race. A checklist just defines the activity or tasks requiring completion prior to the race, not the job of each crewmember. Checklists do not illustrate the flow of the individual activity.
What I am suggesting is not a new or revolutionary idea. It is just common sense. Using our tire example, it may be as simple as an illustrated process flow map showing the steps that the tire man follows to get the job accomplished. Anybody who has been working with cars for over a month will have seen a manual of some type or another. What I am suggesting is no more than the steps a team member might go through to accomplish tasks on race day or even the activities they accomplish in the shop. Capturing the workflow and some of the more critical details may take some extra effort over the short term, but it will improve overall efficiency. This is the process of developing your SOP. This is not rocket science, but this is the same sort of tools rocket scientists utilize to develop their SOP. It may be as simple as just having someone sit down with the tire guy to go through the specific activity and document the process.
The act of documenting the process may illuminate some ways you could improve that process. You may find some things to be unnecessary or you may find that you are not measuring the process correctly or at all. In fact, as you document the process flow, you may see some activities that were not previously defined as part of this person's normal duty. In the case of the tire man's duties, you have a two-fold process. One part of the process is responsibility at the track. The second is his responsibility at the shop. You may find they are very different, but no less important.
You may not have a paid tire specialist on a typical Saturday night team, but the job is no less important. Defining the activity for each crewmember will help you to better understand how many people you really need. More often than not, you will not have enough help to make your program run smoothly. As you further define this activity, it will be much easier to get a new team member up to speed and working with the rest of the team.
The process flow map can even be developed into a full-blown process map with all of the input and output for each step documented. This activity will help support any process-improvement activities your team may be going through. I might add that all racing is a process-improvement activity. I can't think of any team that is competing for wins that is not looking at continually improving the performance of the team, which is the same as improving the performance of the car. The two activities are linked. It is very difficult to improve the performance of the car without improving the performance of the team.
You may be asking, why should I go through this type of activity when I just race for fun at the local dirt track? It is just as important for you to stabilize your processes and minimize the variation, regardless of the parameter or function. If you look at the majority of the people winning races across the country, especially the ones who are consistent winners or have extremely good finishing statistics, they will have a very ordered approach to how they prepare for each race. It may not be written down in any fashion, but you will find rigor in their approach to pre-race preparation, tuning, and post-race debriefing. In fact, the teams that have the best results will most likely have some sort of documented process. They may not call it a process control or work instructions, but they will have some written documentation to support the process. It may be as simple as a developed list of pre- and post-race activities and tasks. That is where they are starting.
I have included an example of a process flow that you might develop to document the standard work that a tire guy may use for post-race activities. Once again, this is a simple document that could be developed as a list just as easily. The view in a semi-graphical list is just easier for some to follow.
You need to take the initiative to stabilize the processes that support your racing activity. The first step is to define those tasks, then document the process as it exists today. You need to analyze the tasks and see if you could improve that process. Next, implement and document the improvements. Finally, you need to implement controls to make sure those improvements stay in place. This will include a metric of some sort so you can visualize if you are improving or falling back into your old ways. The pen and pencil is your friend; many racers see the written word as a threat to what they are doing and how they do it. When the exact opposite is true, documentation is the cornerstone to success.
This is an example of a process flow. By adapting set procedures, a team increases the chance of predictable and acceptable results.
Unload tires from truck upon return from the track* Count all wheels. Make sure we have all that belong to our team.* Look for obvious damage.
Clean tires and wheels* Look for any cracks and obvious damage to the wheels during cleaning.
Dismount tiresfrom wheels* With tires dismounted, measure wheels for excessive runout.* Look for damage again.
Evaluate used tires for use as practice tires* Check tires for any structural issues or damage.* Measure and record tread depth in log book.
Remount good used tires on good wheels* Check with Crew-chief for practice needs.
Orderreplacement wheels* Order new wheels to replace damaged, unserviceable wheels.* Order new lug nuts as applicable to replace damaged or missing lugs.
Dispose ofdamaged or unserviceable wheels* Severly damaged wheels are scrapped.
Evaluate all wheels; look for any damage* Review wheels again for any hidden damage.* Route lightly damaged wheels to gift shop.
Check and service all impact wrenches* Refill HP bottles* Check impact wrenches for serviceability and performance.