Lessons from Formula SAE experience.

About a year ago a question in the LinkedIN Formula SAE group was posted.   It was related to the one thing that you would go back and change with the experience that you have today.  It was a nice forum discussion and many ideas were presented.  So in this post I will be summarizing the ideas that were presented using Wordle, discuss my own view of the results and go over how the word cloud was constructed.

The actual question posted was:

“With everything you learned (or are learning) from Formula, if you could go back and change one thing, what would you change about your team? Could be: goals, designs, management, equipment, etc…” –Anthony Stielow

This question generated 23 comments, most of them at least 4 sentences long.  The answers in the form of a word cloud are below.  From each comment the important words were recorded, synonyms were merged and then the list of words was input into Wordle.net to generate a “word cloud”.


The most mentioned topic was project management, and most of the remaining topics were related to this topic.  The comments went over how project management or time management was something that their teams needed to improve.  The team could have good ideas but it was difficult to complete them in the chaos of designing, building and testing a vehicle.  This is in agreement with Claude Rouelle’s (FSAE Design Judge) advice to build a good team first (project management) and then build a good car (video).

These lessons mentioned in the post are not engineering related, however Formula SAE is an engineering design competition.  From my own experience in the competition I can tell that engineering also has a big role in the competition.  There is no way yet to bypass the thermodynamics laws, drag coefficients and tire slip angles.  The complexity of the project is what makes project management equally important.

Now let’s briefly talk about how to get better at project management.  Organization has to be at the top of the list.  Teams can first set goals for the vehicle, weight less than XX, so many HP, just to give two examples.  Then they need to set a plan to get at those goals.  The more specific the plan the better; it should have deadlines, big tasks divided into small tasks and people in charge of those tasks.

FSAE is an experience and no plan will be able to manage all situations.  The time will come when problems will arrive and you have to set a new or modified plan, goals, and tasks.  That is ok.  The important issue is to not wait until you can not fix mistakes or problems properly.

FSAE is also about people solving problems.  One tool for this purpose is brainstorming.  Know the brainstorming rules (link).   Another tool to solve engineering problems is the TRIZ methodology.

A lot can be written to help FSAE students however the single piece of advice that helped me when I was a student was:

“Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time!” -Arnold H. Glasgow

The right solution is dependent on time and method!


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