As Elon Musk continues to “wow” the world, he’s grown quite the fan base among the tech community.
While most of us can only dream of founding the next Tesla or Space X, there’s plenty of wisdom we can gain from Musk, much of which he shares over social media.
Like any great leader, Musk knows that we often learn more from our mistake than our successes, which is why he was the first to admit he had messed up with the Model 3 production.
Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 13, 2018
He attributed the operational mishap to an excess of advanced automation, saying that “humans are underrated”.
What came of this failure was actually a lesson that is extremely valuable in testing — automation is great, but can’t be used all the time. Humans are essential to ensure a quality of the highest standard and catch mistakes that machines won’t always recognize.
Trouble in Production Paradise
Being Elon Musk isn’t easy. In the last year, he’s faced his fair share of challenges, but one of the most recent has been the production delays for Tesla’s Model 3 Sedan.
As one of the first affordable Tesla models, it’s no surprise the pre-order numbers were sky high. In response, Musk used an assembly line run by automated robots for fast production and projected to make 5,000 of the car every week to meet demand.
In reality, the number Musk was able to achieve with this method was closer to 2,000. Once he realized that the degree of automation was actually slowing down the process, he stepped in and took over.
Though automation seemed like the perfect solution for quickly and consistently building the cars, Musk acknowledged that he had gotten complacent about some of the new technology, putting it all towards the Model 3 without staging it first, according to CBS.
In turn, Musk had to scrap the production model and spent countless long nights working himself, because that’s what you do when you’re Tesla’s CEO and have to deliver thousands of product every week.
While the robots were impressive, they didn’t stack up to the complicated and detailed process that went into making the Model 3. It seems Musk could have benefitted from more spending time learning the ins-and-outs of the machines and designing a plan specifically for the Model 3 Sedan project.
Additionally, if there had been a balance of automation and manual, the two processes could have supported each other and worked as a symbiotic relationship. Instead, an overreliance on automation caused the production downfall.
Our Fascination with Automation
We all love to love automation because it’s new, shiny, and a lot of times it’s a great solution to manual work.
However, in our excitement over the possibilities of automation, many of us have experienced too much of a good thing. By overdoing automation, oftentimes we are negatively impacting productivity.
Through Elon Musk’s trials and tribulations with automation, he effectively taught the software testing and development teams of the world a few important lessons:
- Effective automation depends on the quality of your first “robot” — if you don’t dedicate the patience and precision required, you will see your results fall short.
- The job isn’t done once the bots are built. Automation depends on extensive maintenance and upkeep.
- When automation backfires, you must step in to manually alleviate the damages and make necessary alterations.
- There will always be a place for manual testing. In the discussion over whether or not AI will take over these jobs, there is no question that human engineers will continue to have an integral part of the QA process.
- Automation follows a pattern. If there are any new obstacles or factors that haven’t been considered, it disrupts this pattern and affects the results.
- Learning the intricacies of new technology is critical. Before diving in headfirst, you have to spend the time becoming familiar with how it functions and what you can expect.
- Planning is critical. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of time, cost, and effort that goes into putting an effective automation strategy into effect, and sometimes manual work will be more productive.
If you’re beginning to implement automation in your organization, or if you’re finding it hasn’t been giving you the results you were hoping for, take a step back and reconsider your test automation strategy.
Automation is not a quick fix — it requires extensive planning, monitoring, maintenance, and upkeep. Elon Musk himself proved that you can’t just expect one robot to solve all your problems.