Building Cars With Small Teams


Ariel Atom front view
Ariel Atom front view
(click to enlarge)

This video about the Ariel Atom is fun to watch. This would be a great car to drive. The best quote from the video: "anyone who wants to know what a car should be should drive one of these."

The reason I mention it here, however, is that the Atom is built by a small team of seven people. It's easy to see how a small team can develop software, but the conventional wisdom is that to manufacture something like a car you have to have a big organization.

I chose the word "manufacture" deliberately in the last paragraph because this isn't a one-off racing car, which are built by small teams, but a car you can order and buy.

Manufacturing something like a car requires intense specialization of skills. So, how is the Atom possible? It still requires lots of specialization, but in the same way that a small programming team outsources a lot of specialization by using open source tools or buying hosted Web services, the Ariel team has outsourced things like building the engine (it uses a Toyota engine).

This is a theme that Thomas Malone talks about in his book, The Future of Work. He gave a talk recently at Accelerating Change 2005 that you can listen to on IT Conversations.