Elon Musk's Engineering Principles

Apr 16, 2023

Think what you want of Elon Musk, but he has achieved quite a bit in engineering novel solutions to complex problems. We've worked mainly on implementing the same process to great effect in what we do. The principles are:

  1. Fix dumb requirements. Each requirement has a specific owner.
  2. Remove unnecessary parts
  3. Simplify/Optimize
  4. Speed up cycle time
  5. Automate

You can watch him describe his process here:

This is how we think about how to apply these principles as it applies to opsZero.

Fix dumb requirements.

When solving a problem for a customer the customer may not actually know what they need. So uncover the actual requirement behind the request. Usually, a problem such as the production database is high CPU and clients can't connect may actually be a root cause issue of the production database is being used to replicate data to a data warehouse which is causing the issue. This root cause analysis can be gleaned through a five whys analysis.

Second, with these requirements there needs to be a clear owner responsible for the issue. If there is not an owner for something then that itself is an issue. Ownership of each component means that someone exists to optimize each piece.

Remove unnecessary parts

Systems over time become complex. Pieces are added that don't need to exist. Or they were added then most likely someone forgot about. Systems over time should get less complex not more so. As we build things we build to get the task done. This means we may add complexity to the system that didn't need to exist but because we are pathfinding our way to the solution that complexity is needed. Once we get to the point of the system working as needed we go back and remove the pieces that are not needed.


After removing unnecessary parts, there may still be complexity within the current components. To simplify these components, we need to reduce variability and increase standardization. The use of if-else blocks to account for variability can increase complexity. However, simplification by reducing variability requires a subjective decision on the optimal approach. Therefore, it's best to initially build with some variability and refine through A/B testing over time towards the optimal solution.

Speed up cycle time

Once an optimal approach is found, remove variability to have a standardized approach for deliverability. This leads to faster outcomes with fewer if-else blocks creating flow.


Lastly, automate the processes such that things happen without intervention.