Category Archives: Lean Manufacturing

Agility and the Motocross Tester

This is Joe’s story.  Joe told me his story at the end of the day after observing a team using Agile release planning techniques to create a plan both the team and management could commit to.

Joe said, “Brent, as I watched this event unfold, I kept thinking about when I was a Honda motorcycle tester for their motocross program.  They were the worst bikes on the circuit until one day they changed everything.”

“Please go on!”  I replied, eager to hear a game-changing story.

So, Joe told his story:

I was quite young and had a job testing motorcycles for Honda.  Kawasaki and Suzuki were dominant and Honda had the worst motocross bikes.  One day, some engineers from Japan showed up along with a parts shipment.  They gathered all the test riders together and said, “We want you to FULLY TEST this equipment.  This means you should break it every day.  If it doesn’t break, you aren’t riding it hard enough.”  Each day, the debriefings were intense.

Three weeks later, the engineers came back with another shipment of newly designed parts.  These parts were designed and built and delivered based on the feedback from the last visit!  We went out to break them, knowing we had contributed to the parts design.

One evening the test riders went out for drinks.  The next day, they pulled us in and lined us up.  The leader said, “You are not riding the bikes hard enough.  You drank too much.  Go home and come back tomorrow.”

A few people went out again that night.  The next day, we got stopped again.  The leader pointed at several riders and said, “ You, you and you.  You cannot test these bikes hard enough.  You are fired.  Everyone else, go break those motorcycles.”

It was very intense.

Every three weeks, we would get new parts or even new motorcycles.  Each time we would have intense debriefing sessions.  We also knew we would have new parts in three weeks.

That year, Honda went from the worst to building the best motorcycles and started dominating the motocross circuit.

I always liked this story because of the lean manufacturing perspective and the Agile context where Joe told it.  The commitment to quick releases demonstrated game-changing results; even to field testers (Incremental releases). The ability to debrief effectively and analyze results with users of the product allowed them to identify and improve the product (Iterative development).  Fully tested means hard work.  Bridging the gap between engineers and users clearly demonstrated the value of co-location, even if for incremental periods of time.