Several months ago, before I left Soyokaze America and the State of Estacado, the President of Soyokaze America was also a fan of our space program. Whereas Willard’s story involves Apollo 13, mine involves the HBO miniseries “Earth to the Moon”.
The whole thing gets started in the aforementioned moment when Jack Kennedy makes the promise that sends everybody at NASA scrambling to figure out how they were going to go about doing it. They drafted up a bunch of things that they would need to do before they could land on the moon (successfully orbit, space-walk, rendezvous, docking, etc) and set those up as milestones towards the ultimate goal.
According to Soyokaze’s president, the lesson here was “Think big! Make big promises! Don’t worry until later how or whether you will be able to actually do it!”
We saw something very different, though. We saw an organization that did not just decide that something was going to be done, but decided how it as going to do it. They set up steps where in each case they would not move on to the next step until the previous step was complete. When they had a setback, they moved not just the date for that segment, but the projected date of the actual landing back. The goal was to get there safely.
Had Soyokaze been in charge of the Moon Landing, it would have looked very different: After the first milestone had been passed, a senior manager at NASA would request that the spacecraft become made Mars-compliant. So everyone would have to start again from scratch, but the first milestone wouldn’t be tested again and instead we’d be trying to get a guy space-walking before they achieved orbit. Oh, well, that didn’t work, so hopefully we’ll hit both of those when we rendezvous! The initial projected launch date of 1967 wouldn’t be moved until we’d already passed it. They’d move it once, they’d move it again. Then, some time six months before the end of the decade aim the rocket as close to the moon as we could, close our eyes, cross our fingers, and launch the sucker! Afterwards, some After-Incident Reports would be filed, and having never successfully gotten to the Moon, we’d take the next logical step of going to Mars. After all, they wanted the rocketship to be Mars compliant for a reason.
About a month later, he had us watch the second part of the miniseries, which involved the Apollo 1 explosion that killed Ed White, Gus Grissolm, and Roger Chafee. It also followed the investigation afterwards into the crash. In the climax, astronaut Frank Borman saved the entire project by saying that Grissom would have wanted the project to carry on and that things were overlooked because not all potential problems were correctly assessed. It was, he said, a failure of imagination.
According to Soyokaze’s president, the lesson was, “Things go wrong when you don’t use all of your creativity to solve problems. Imagine how something can be solved and put it into practice.”
Once again, we saw something different. As in, the movie that he was showing us. The “failure of the imagination” was not a failure in problem-solving, it was a failure to foresee everything that could go wrong! From a QA perspective, this was particularly infuriating because we’d filed report after report of our products defects and over and over again we were told “It’ll work out fine” and “It’s good enough”. The “failure of the imagination” was when they fail to imagine that our alarm that our product destroyed customer hardware was justified or that the software lifecycle is suboptimal.
I’m not sure entirely what it is about space analogies that CEOs love, but they do seem to love space analogies. I think it all goes back to Kennedy. He said “Hey, we’re going to the moon!” and a thousands and thousands of other people worked their posteriors off and it nonetheless goes down in history as something that Kennedy made happen. I guess I can see why that appeals.