Tesla: Sometimes, Just Sometimes, It’s Okay for a Project Deadline to Slip… If You’re Building Something Amazing

On Thursday evening, September 29th, Tesla Motors hit another major milestone in automotive engineering by officially launching the Model X electric crossover SUV.

Much like the Model S electric sedan before it, Tesla’s much-anticipated Model X took much longer to launch than initially planned, as shown by the series of launch delays below:

  • End of 2013: Initial Launch Deadline
  • H2 2013: Second Launch Deadline
  • Late 2014: Third Launch Deadline
  • Spring 2015: Fourth Launch Deadline
  • Fall 2015: Actual Launch

Fortunately, this project didn’t drag on as long as some other great human achievements; if it were to take Tesla Motors as long to launch a vehicle as it took to build the Leaning Tower of Pisa, then they would probably end up launching a vehicle powered by an anti-gravity drive, rather than a couple of electric motors. Wouldn’t THAT be amazing…?

Why the Delays?

The Model X launch delays are due in large part to the many engineering challenges that they needed to solve in order to end up with a vehicle that would blow away their customers… and their competition. It wasn’t okay to launch a vehicle that looks like a toaster or a door stop, and it wasn’t okay to launch a vehicle that only has a range of 40 miles. It had to be sexy AND practical at the same time, which meant that Tesla engineers needed to solve problems that nobody had successfully solved before… which unfortunately takes time and money.

Was It Worth the Wait?

There are currently over 80,000 Tesla Model S owners worldwide, and most would probably say that it was most definitely worth the wait… if the Model X’s end product is anything like that of the Model S that has been on the road since 2012. Tesla owners are some of the most fanatical customers in the world; so much so that over 20,000 people have paid $5,000 to reserve a new Model X when they start rolling off the assembly line in Fremont, California. As further proof of their amazing products, in September of this year, Consumer Reports announced that the Model S scored so highly that it “broke” their ratings system… scoring a 103 out of a possible 100 points.

Fortunately, long waits for delayed projects is not the modus operandi for Tesla Motors. One of the features of their vehicles that makes for an amazing product is their regular software updates — downloaded over the air and installed automatically — that add new features and bug fixes over the life of the automobile. How many products  do you own (especially automobiles!) that actually get better with age? This method of project / product delivery is closer to an Agile methodology, where project teams complete smaller, more frequent deliverables, rather than the traditional waterfall methodology of years past.

What is Your Project / Product Strategy?

Am I stating that all project / product launch delays are acceptable? Absolutely not. This is not a one-size-fits-all philosophy. However, sometimes project teams can be given a ‘Get out of jail free card’ if they are solving difficult problems that will add immense value to the end product.

This is why you should think about the strategy and desired outcomes for any project. Are you trying to get something out the door quickly, such as  iterative product development or small functional improvements?

…Or are you trying to accomplish something truly amazing that will blow everyone away?

Is the Right Person Running Your Project?

Effective project management involves a lot of strategy and personality, and the desired outcome for a project should dictate who you select to run it. After determining the strategy for a project, I suggest that you ask another series of questions to determine the best person to manage your project, including…

  • Do they acknowledge project objectives, or believe in them?
  • Do they focus on deliverables, or results?
  • Do they provide control, or accommodation?
  • Do they focus on deliverable quantity, or delivery quality?
  • Do they work toward completion, or benefits and value?

We can do anything we set our mind to… but sometimes the impossible just takes a little longer.

Good luck!

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