Building a new team internally

John Tucker

Manager of Master Scheduling at SpaceX



SpaceX asked me to set up a new master scheduling team in order to improve the efficiency of the production line, and I was told that I should decide on success criteria. This was frustrating as I'm an engineer, so mostly deal with strict deadlines and metrics, and it was difficult not having these in place.

Actions taken

First, I tried to understand what the problem was on the production line was, and talked with people to discover what solutions they had tried to introduce, and why it had failed. My boss originally gave me a very broad steer on issues he thought we needed a team to tackle. However, after talking with people and getting a better understanding of the landscape, I realized that these issues weren't the biggest ones the team needed to be focused on.

"It took me three to four weeks to understand what the problems were and to start formulating solutions. It then took me another month of rewriting vision and mission statements for the team. It's important to ensure they are clear, so that other teams and stakeholders understand what you are there to do."

I then gave a 30-minute presentation to my executives, showing them what I learned, what I thought we needed, and why. After getting approval and agreement, I started the hiring process. We had agreed on hiring internally. By talking to the stakeholders in the first month, we realized part of the solution would be systems and coding, and another part of the solution would be process improvement, and we determined that I needed to hire five engineers (four production engineers and one systems engineer). In total, developing the team took about a year, but we're still looking for two more engineers.

Lessons learned

  • Make sure that they thoroughly understand what the team is supposed to be doing before hiring anyone. Having a team of people who don't know what they're meant to do lowers your credibility as a manager, and it can lower their morale as they may feel less valued.
  • Ensure you know what your vision is and importantly, how to message that to others. There is almost always a team or group of stakeholders who are working on something similar to you, so you'll need to convince them that what you are going to be doing is of mutual benefit and not "stepping on their toes".
  • I got some pushback, as others perceived they were being criticized for not creating solutions themselves, and that this team was being created because they had "dropped the ball". The best way to overcome this is to make them feel included in the process. These individuals or groups obviously feel they have a stake in the outcome. Use that to your advantage.
  • This took a long time. Much longer than I would have liked because of that initial period of trying to understand the issues. That could be done quicker with more exposure to your target audience in a shorter period of time.
  • Identify initial stakeholders and send out short email surveys;
  • Call group meetings where you articulate your purpose to get feedback to may people at once
  • If there's a company newsletter write an article describing what you're trying to do Never do those things in lieu of one-on-one chats however. Personal communication will still be the number one method to get the most detailed information. Use the above exposure methods to guide you in your investigation. Putting a team together with little direction and overcoming resistance comes down to strong communication skills, something engineers and future engineering managers really need to master to be successful in any endeavor.

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John Tucker

Manager of Master Scheduling at SpaceX

Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance MetricsLeadership Training

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