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Ann Arbor Spark

May 14, 2018

FordLabs Celebrates One Year in Ann Arbor

On May 10, employees of FordLabs and Pivotal Labs came together in Ann Arbor to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the FordLabs Ann Arbor office. Andrew Brown kicked off the celebration by sharing the FordLabs origin story, reflecting on the early days of the Pivotal partnership when he, Aaron Rajda, and a small Ford team began collaborating in Chicago on GoRide — the recently launched non-emergency medical transportation service to safely get patients to and from their medical appointments on time. “We learned a great deal from the team at Pivotal and built some great friendships along the way,” said Brown. “As we started to think about transitioning the product back to Dearborn, we also began to discuss how things work traditionally at Ford — and how that differed from what we had learned from the Pivotal Labs approach to product development.”

Based on what they had observed at Pivotal, combined with what they knew of improved performance measures reported by modern area tech-based companies, there was strong evidence to support a new way of working. At FordLabs, the team uses a combination of Human Centered DesignLean Startup, and eXtreme Programming (XP) with a balanced team consisting of a product manager, a product designer, and software engineers (at least two, in order to practice paired programming), who are fully dedicated to delivering a single product backlog.

So, how did this fledgling team end up in Ann Arbor? There were a few factors that influenced the process — including the lack of available space in Dearborn and a desire to follow Pivotal’s tradition of setting up in urban and downtown locations. Eventually, once it was determined that Ann Arbor would be its future home, FordLabs and Ann Arbor SPARK came together. After reviewing a few attractive spaces, the FordLabs team landed in a portion of the former Google space in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor. “Having an Ann Arbor office has been great for us and, in my opinion, Ford overall,” said Brown.

The SPARK and FordLabs collaboration continued with the team’s participation in A2 Tech Trek just one month after moving into the new space. “We were shocked to have over 12,000 visitors pass through our office,” mused Ryan Kennel, FordLabs Office Director.

Joining Brown during the presentation was Rajda who shared with the team the 2018 Project of the Year award received by FordLabs at the Ann Arbor SPARK annual meeting in April. “This award represents the value that SPARK recognizes in the work we are doing here, as well as the significance of the Ford name in this thriving tech community.”

This year, in addition to welcoming the public into their offices, FordLabs is participating in both Tech Talk and Mobility Row — the newest addition to the a2Tech360 program. “We had a great presence at Tech Trek — just a few weeks after moving in,” said Brown. “I know both the FordLabs and Pivotal teams are looking forward to this year’s events.”

Register for Tech Talk to hear Ryan Kennel, FordLabs office director, as well as other Ann Arbor leaders and visionaries, on June 15. Check out the entire program.

And be sure to stop at FordLabs at 201 S. Division for the chance to practice pair programming, participate in a recreated Lab Daily Standup, and learn about FordLabs distinct culture.