Mission Critical Agility

Dr. Jeff Norris,  Mission Planning and Execution Systems Manager, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, delighted the audience with his speech about being agile in the 21st century. After he dazzled the audience with this amazing clip of Nasa’s latest venture, Dr. Jeff Norris explained there are three pillars to implement mission critical agility: Vision, Risk and Commitment. Vision The first part dealt with vision, starting off with an anecdote on Monks jolted by electric currents happening sometimes towards the end of 18th century, followed by a run-down of the very interesting history of Alexander Graham Bell, whose invention of the telephone thrashed any outlooks that the then successful Western Union telegraphing company had. Moral of the story: Failing to see the value in visions can kill your business. (Even worse, Western Union was apparently offered to buy a fully functional telephone with related patents, for what can only be described as peanuts, and flat out refused it). Risk Dr. Jeff Norris illustrated the importance of risk with the example of getting to the moon, and how to actually achieve that. The defining moment of managing the feat was to propose that there cannot be a single spacecraft that would manage lifting off earth, landing on the moon, getting up again and re-entering Earth, but that the whole thing would have to be composed of several parts that would play a role during the different phases of the mission. This idea was originally proposed by John Houbolt and first opposed and later accepted by Werner von Braun. The main point: This massive change in concept enabled the NASA to land on the moon. The question needs to be asked not only about the cost of changing something but also the cost of not changing something. Sometimes we believe the road to success is doing the simple thing. “Do the simplest thing (…) that could possibly work.” – Ward Cunningham. Commitment When you’re making a tough decision, you often eliminate all the options until you make up your mind. How long can you stay uncommitted, considering the vast amount of options available? It’s often more important to know when to make a decision than what decision you finally make. The better way is to leave as many options as possible open? “Leave the beaten track occasionally and dive into the woods.” Alexander Graham Bell