Six Core Building Blocks To Succeed At Tesla


APR 29 2017 BY EVANNEX 12


Tesla Special Projects – Carnegie Mellon University’s Scott Institute for Energy Innovation*


On March 28th, Andrew Stevenson of Tesla’s Special Projects delivered a keynote speech titled, “Opportunities for Students in Building a Sustainable Energy Future,” during the Carnegie Mellon University’s Scott Institute for Energy Innovation* 2017 Energy Week. Stevenson works closely with Tesla co-founder and chief technical officer, J.B. Straubel, tackling projects that don’t always fit neatly into existing programs within the company. That said, Stevenson was certainly qualified to discuss what he described as Tesla’s “scalable approach to problem solving.”

*This article comes to us courtesy of Evannex (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Authored by Matt Pressman.

The presentation appeared to be part of Stevenson’s efforts to actively recruit some of the best and brightest students from Carnegie Mellon University. He noted that most of the Silicon Valley automaker’s hiring is currently focused on engineering students with an emphasis on mechanical engineering. Stevenson’s presentation revolved around what he referred to as the “six core building blocks” needed while working at Tesla: 1. Mission; 2. Teams; 3. First Principles; 4. Autonomy and self-motivation; 5. Critical thinking and root cause analysis; and 6. Continuous improvement.


Carnegie Mellon University’s Scott Institute for Energy Innovation*

Stevenson reiterated that Tesla’s mission continues to be “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” He noted that Tesla started small with just 5 people on staff. Yet it’s grown to over 30,000 employees worldwide. Regardless of how big the automaker grows, the emphasis remains on small, entrepreneurial teams to handle the company’s challenges.


Carnegie Mellon University’s Scott Institute for Energy Innovation*

Stevenson described Tesla’s “first principles” approach as using “fundamental reasoning” — not deferring to “the way others have done it.” He pointed out the fact that the Model S was “designed from the ground up” to be an all-electric vehicle. And, he also described the solar roof as another strong application of the first principles approach.


Carnegie Mellon University’s Scott Institute for Energy Innovation*

Another core building block Stevenson described was “autonomy and self-motivation” being a means for employees to be proactive instead of waiting for management to dictate deliverables. He described how the company (itself) used this approach. When rumors started about various government entities setting up charging networks, Tesla still went ahead and established their own Supercharger Network in advance of those efforts. This definitely paid off for Tesla and it’s customers later on.


Carnegie Mellon University’s Scott Institute for Energy Innovation*

With “critical thinking and root cause analysis,” Stevenson explained that, as part of Tesla’s mission,  the company sought out renewable energy sources in hopes that they would become more prevalent on the grid. In turn, Tesla recognized that energy storage was “the missing piece.” Therefore, the company pushed forward and built their own Powerpack stationary storage product line in order to help implement grid-based solutions for renewables. One slide (see below) also highlighted Tesla’s recent acquisition of SolarCity as part of this 360-degree sustainable energy solution.


Carnegie Mellon University’s Scott Institute for Energy Innovation*

With “continuous improvement” Stevenson reminded us that software companies have been using this approach for some time. In Tesla’s case, the Gigafactory itself is a key example — as the automaker decided to build one section at a time in order to quickly start work within the building, it proceeded to continue construction — building additional sections and applying key learnings along the way. In addition, Stevenson also cited Autopilot as a prime example of continuous improvement.


Carnegie Mellon University’s Scott Institute for Energy Innovation*

Highlighting three of Tesla’s current special projects, Stevenson discussed: the solar roof, autopilot, and factory automation (the machine that builds the machine). Most fascinating was when Stevenson reviewed Tesla’s factory automation (referred to internally as MTBTM) as a mission-critical internal initiative. A slide (see above) also pointed out Germany’s Grohmann Engineering which the company recently acquired. He noted that the Palo Alto innovator didn’t want to rely so strongly on suppliers as it felt like “shopping from a catalog” and, instead, wanted more control via vertical integration.


Carnegie Mellon University’s Scott Institute for Energy Innovation*

Stevenson emphasized the Model 3 as the core focus right now companywide. But he also laid out five future challenges (see above) Tesla is currently facing: 1. Selling sustainable energy; 2. Scaling service and support; 3. Building a global company; 4. Re-thinking the materials supply chain; and 5. Recruiting and education. And he acknowledged plans for the Tesla truck (in the Q&A) and mentioned “developing a Tesla product to address all the vehicle segments” as part of future plans. For Stevenson’s full presentation, check out the video below.


*Source: Carnegie Mellon University’s Scott Institute for Energy Innovation

*Editor’s Note: EVANNEX, which also sells aftermarket gear for Teslas, has kindly allowed us to share some of its content with our readers. Our thanks go out to EVANNEX, Check out the site here.

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12 Comments on "Six Core Building Blocks To Succeed At Tesla"

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Uh… correction needed in that slideshow. Tesla was NOT launched in 2004 with 5 people. It was incorporated on July 1, 2003, by 2 people.

So then, apparently this is part of Elon Musk’s revisionism, in which he claims to be a “founder” of Tesla Motors… or even the founder, altho he was not involved with the company when it was incorporated.

The fundamental premise of this article is that Telsa is successful and should be copied, but other companies have sold more electric cars and were first to affordable short range and long range EVs. I’d like to know how success is judged here. It certainly isn’t by retained earnings, which are negative four billion.

No judgement is required, as judgement implies there are arguments to make, and since Tesla is the undisputed leader in premium ev’s it’s a natural conclusion that their model has merit.

Success is judged on a system level. Is there any other electric car that you can drive from New York to California, in much the same time that it would take in a polluting car? No.

Four Electrics continued his serial Tesla bashing:

“The fundamental premise of this article is that Telsa is successful and should be copied…”

Gosh yes, what a silly notion. It’s not like Tesla is leading the EV revolution, or that every other auto maker and wannabe EV maker is trying to copy Tesla’s achievements, or that Tesla is growing its production faster — much faster — than any other auto maker of appreciable size.

Oh, wait… it’s not just like that, it is exactly that.

The fundamental premise of 4E’s constantly whiney and repetitive anti-Tesla FUD is that anything Tesla does is bad and probably costs him money on his shorts.

Meanwhile in the real world, Tesla keeps getting closer and closer to manufacturing hundreds of thousands of compelling EVs and other diversified products too.

And Tesla is systematically building a comprehensive ecosystem of products with the latest in ultra-modern mass-manufacturing capacity while the laggard OEMs keep investing in soon to be going obsolete technology.

I wonder what is your deal, four electrics?
All you do is trolling electrics (not just Tesla) so what the hell are you doing here? Get lost!

Negative four billion, measured against assets and money that came from shareholders that are currently doing quite well.

Tesla is inspiring many other companies and ideas. I think it’s great they don’t just focus on earnings and short term profits like most other companies do. They have vision and get products out the door that are better than any others.

If people can’t see that they are missing the big picture. They are growing fast and are the 21st century idea company.

I agree, Jim. I find it farcical that regular OEMs call their concept EVs “Vision” this, that and the other.

Well done a company on the move.