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The need for speed

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Three years ago Richard Noble had visited the Branch to talk about the vision for Bloodhound and the design concepts at the 2011 AGM. The SWWE Branch was delighted to be to be able to invite the Bloodhound Supersonic Car team and the BMT Hi-Q Sigma consultancy team back to provide an update on the project and how it is being managed from design through to delivery for  the attempt on the land speed record planned for later this year.

The evening kicked off with Allan Reid, who is a STEM and Bloodhound SSC Ambassador, as well as co-chair of the SWWE Branch South Wales Chapter.  Allan explained Bloodhound’s mission statement which is “To create a national surge in the popularity of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics - (STEM) subjects”.   UK has a shortage of engineers and scientists, and Bloodhound’s aim is to provide an inspirational symbol to spark interest in the STEM subjects as a career choice for young people.  It has full support from Government and Industry, but no direct financial backing.  It is a registered Charity and depends on donations and sponsorship.

Allan described the history of the project, which was launched by Lord Drayson in 2008 and the engineering challenges of integrating a Eurofighter Typhoon engine and a rocket motor into a ‘car’ with 4 wheels that is designed to travel at 1053 mph.  The build programme will be complete in July 2015 with initial tests in Cornwall. Bloodhound will then travel to the Hakskeen Pan in South Africa late this year to attempt to break the current Land Speed Record held by Thrust SSC of 763.035 mph.  In 2016 it will return to Hakskeen Pan to attempt the 1000 mph target.

Colin Higginson, BMT Hi-Q Sigma, described how he got involved with Bloodhound as a volunteer to help plan how to move from the design phase to delivery and hard dates for completion of the build and attempts on the speed records. Richard Noble describes the Bloodhound Programme Ltd as an unreasonable and disruptive aerospace and education company dedicated to innovation  and financed by sponsorship  and public donation revenues.  Richard was facing increasing pressure from sponsors to commit to firm dates for delivery to allow them to justify their business cases for investing in sponsoring the project.  The problem was that the engineers and designers were having too much fun and did not want to think about time scales and delivery!   A problem of course not restricted to Bloodhound!

Colin described how he went about developing a robust schedule for the Bloodhound programme. The approach was to model the resources needed for 4 scenarios, ranging from getting to South Africa in 2014, to what was possible with the current resources.  A key point made was that the required benefits were identified to help assess the schedule options, including:  Assist the building of a one team ethos; Provide focus for the team on end delivery; Demonstrate to each individual team member how important their contribution will be; Provide assurance to existing sponsors of the projects delivery timescales; Provide the Bloodhound team with the ability to demonstrate to new sponsors an achievable plan.

A product breakdown structure of the main assemblies was developed taking account of the required inputs, outputs, constraints and considerations. The PBS then drove development of WBS accounting for the product life cycle from design to manufacture and assembly, integration and test.  The first run through with current resources gave an unacceptable delivery to South Africa of Q1 2017.  Further refinement of the schedule brought this back a little to the end of Q3, 2016. The 2014 scenario option was found to require unaffordable high levels of additional staff and was impossible due to limited availability of specialised manufacturing facilitates.

Colin described how ‘what if’ options for different levels of extra resource were used to identify the point at which the critical path was no longer driven by resource but by task durations.  This resulted in a 15 Month saving compared to the first scenario.  Further work looked at a media jet test in 2015 to generate more press coverage and encourage further sponsorship.  Although this will delay the first trip to South Africa, the benefits of more press coverage and sponsorship compensate for this. The work helped Richard Noble and the Senior Staff understand the issues and options and to decide the best way forward.  It also enabled Jaguar to have confidence in the programme and agree to be a sponsor, which helped get much needed technical expertise, equipment and funding.

Colin summarised his lessons as:

  • Invariably most plans are optimistic.
  • Over optimism is inherent in most people and difficult to overcome
  • Even the best constructed plans can only be realised by people and there is your biggest problem!
  • Understanding the personalities of key personnel is essential
  • You will never capture all the activities required for the ultimate schedule.
  • Be prepared for the schedule to increase in size and complexity as it matures before you can simplify and reduce working complexity
  • The analysis of data and its presentation needs to be tailored to your customer.
  • Some like lots and the decision making is paralysed
  • Others like to keep it simple and make effective decisions

Know and understand your customer, help them to help themselves.

Simon Harrison, BMT Hi-Q Sigma, described his role in refining the schedule and improving project control. The detailed, fully resourced schedule set deadlines for key staff and progress against the plan was monitored with fortnightly update meetings with the team, supplemented with 1-2-1 meetings with key staff.  

It was recognised that the plan was too complex with too much detail which resulted in a high overhead to monitor and maintain.  Simon described how they went back to basics with a post-it note exercise to test and refine the logic for the assembly work.  This simplified the plan from 1600 lines to 400, which improved visibility of what was needed and when and got better ownership from the team.   Integration workshops were held with the designers and assembly staff to develop detailed time lines for each major assembly.  This ensured the designers took full account of the practical issues in assembly and overcame the traditional ‘throw-it-over the wall’ approach. The use of simple graphics of what and when and action registers helped all of the team understand their role and responsibilities.

Simon described how team communication was improved, staff were better engaged, and sub team silos broken down with a focus on integration and co-ordination.   Simple reporting enabled the team to maintain a realistic view of progress and status, and provided Sponsors with the confidence they needed to continue their support.

Colin summarised by reviewing the progress against the expected benefits:

  • Assist the building of a one team ethos: there are visible signs of improvement
  • Provide focus for the team on end delivery: the vast majority of staff are fully brought in to delivery
  • Demonstrate to each individual team member how important their contribution will be: every one does understand their role and contribution, which is visible to all on the plan.
  • Provide assurance to existing sponsors of the projects delivery timescales: Jaguar was convinced to be a sponsor, and others now have the confidence to continue to support
  • Provide the Bloodhound team with the ability to demonstrate to new sponsors an achievable plan:  New sponsors are being attracted, and more will be after the media jet test.

Martin Gosden thanked the presenters for a very valuable demonstration of the benefits of applying some basic project management techniques to a highly complex engineering project . The process of developing a resourced plan with stakeholders is invaluable to improving communication and understanding both in the team and with external stakeholders, building team ethos and culture.  It provides reliable information to make sound informed decisions.

The presentation slides can be viewed below.

Martin Gosden
SWWE Branch Chairman



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