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Project Management Lessons Learned from the Manned Space Program

Text of Apollo13

  • Learning the Lessons of Apollo 13 Michael S. Lines, PMP PM Network, May 1996, pp25-27 Presented by Paul Mayhew IT Project Management Applications April 7, 2010 Apollo 13 on the Launch Pad, April 11, 1970
  • "Houston, we've had a problem." - John Swigert, Apollo 13 pilot Failure is not an option -Ed Harris as Flight Director Gene Kranz Apollo 13 Mission Patch From the moon, knowledge
  • The story of Apollo 13 is one of hope, inspiration, and perseverance, and one that holds many useful parallels for those in the field of information systems (IS) project management. What are those parallels? Consider the factors that contributed to the success of the Apollo program. -all quotes attributed to author Michael S. Lines, PMP Unless otherwise cited Apollo 13 liftoff, April 11, 1970
  • Have a clear objective We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. Excerpt from John F. Kennedys speech at Rice University - September 12, 1962
  • Pick the best people Like NASA chooses astronauts, we must also seek to partner with the most talented persons available seek to hire industry specialists with broad experience who can overcome the unexpected problems that occur even in the best planned project. Apollo 13 crew, Fred Haise, John Swigert and Jim Lovell
  • Support them with the best team No matter how good the astronauts were, they would never have been successful without the team that supported them and their mission. In IS projects its not the project manager but the project team that achieves the project objectives. NASA Mission Control during Apollo 13 recovery mission
  • Support them with the best equipment and technology Even though you may not have NASAs budget for your next project, investments in technology can pay huge dividends in productivity and quality. Apollo 13 Lunar Module Aquarius drifting away after return to earth
  • Train Constantly The Apollo astronauts trained constantly. A backup crew trained beside them John Swigert was elevated from backup to Prime Crew two days before liftoff. For IS teams training is essential, whether to understand the technology being deployed , PM tools or implementation, training is better done beforehand rather in the heat of project implementation. Apollo 13s Jim Lovell and Fred Haise Training
  • Prepare for the Unexpected For the astronauts and mission planners, preparing for the unexpected was a crucial part of the program. They knew they were exploring uncharted territory and had to prepare contingencies for situations they might encounter for IS projects preparing for the unknown starts with the initial project planning, when allowances should be built into the plan to account for both known and unknown possibilities. Damage to Apollo 13 command service module
  • Never consider defeat When the disaster struck, the mission controllers, mission team and crew of Apollo 13 never allowed themselves to consider the possibility that the crew would not make it back. When disaster strikes your IS project, as long as you proceed from the standpoint that the project can succeed and must succeed, youll find the drive to see that it will succeed. The earth as seen from Apollo 13
  • Improvise When Apollo 13 was crippled, the mission team members had to use their ingenuity to solve their problems. Hundreds of thousands of miles from earth, with no way to replace the failed CO2 scrubbers, they had to make new ones from what they had available. Likewise your IT project may need rescuing and you may need to improvise to provide a solution that meets the fundamental business objectives. John Swigert installing the mailbox On board Apollo 13 Mission controls solution to the CO2 problem The Mailbox
  • Take Risks The crew and mission team of Apollo 13 knew they had to cut corners and take chances if the astronauts were going to survive. From piloting the spacecraft manually to cutting checklists to a minimum. With certain death the alternative, the mission team took calculated risks to ensure survival. When an IS project is in trouble, the project manager must also take calculated risks to help ensure its survival a gamble with new technologies, new people or new processes. The PM must have the guts to take the risks and face the consequences if failures occur. Mission Control working the problem
  • Turn failure into success Success can be found even in failure. For the Apollo 13 mission, that success was the achievement of bringing the crew back safely against all odds. The interest this generated revived the flagging public support for the Apollo program. In IS projects, even when we fail and the project is cancelled, there is always a lesson to be learned. Whatever the reasonit should be looked on as an opportunity to learn and improve so the future failures can be prevented. The crew of Apollo 13 safely recovered, April 17, 1970
  • This project is dedicated to my dad Donald J. Mayhew. During his thirty year career with NASA my dad was either lead or project engineer for: Escape booster for the Apollo Capsule The command service module for Apollo 11 The command service module for Apollo 15 OV101 - The original Space Shuttle Mockup 1923-2003