Most of us do not remember the third mission intended to land on the Moon. It was 1970 when the Apollo 13 was launched. However, we have heard something about the explosion on board of the spacecraft, which forced NASA to abort the plans of landing on the natural satellite of Earth at that time. The main mission objective from this moment was to get three astronauts back home. They had a broken craft and no procedures for this unexpected scenario.
The story was perfectly depicted in the Apollo 13 movie. “ Houston, we have a problem” — we all remember the phrase Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) used to report the situation to the base. Actually it was a misquote, since astronauts aired “ Houston, we’ve had a problem”, but who cares.
The situation of the Apollo 13 mission was not optimistic. The spacecraft was deprived of most of its oxygen supply and electric power. The previous plans were useless. Gene Kranz (Ed Harris), Flight Director, managed the team throughout the crisis giving us the best lesson of agile project management. He expressed the statement: “ Failure is not an option”.
The astronauts and the team in Houston started to solve one problem after another. Based on their experience they do their best to use the remaining resources, conserve power and oxygen, keep carbon dioxide on a non-toxic level and control the speed and return path of the spacecraft. They’ve never tested anything like this. They’ve never even simulated it.
The crew was brought back safely and the mission was named as a successful failure.
In the National Air and Airspace Museum store in Washington I expected to see t-shirts, magnets, mugs and towels with this misquoted phrase directed to Houston. There were no such gadgets but I was was not disappointed. All possible merchandise were with the statement: “ Failure is not an option”. So I bought one.
I’m old enough to have seen the movie Pulp Fiction when it was released. It is one of these evergreens one should watch. If you are keen on project management this is a simple must!
The main characters Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) are in the front seats of a car. Accidentally one of them shot in the head a guy sitting in the back seat. As a result of this macabre mishap they have their car’s interior covered by the blood and brain pieces. Nothing special. This can happen to anyone but Jules and Vincent panicked about the situation. Thankfully, Mr. Wolf arrives and the following dialog is the great lesson of project management.
He established his authority (“ I solve problems”), he understood the problem (“ Now you got a corpse in a car, minus a head, in a garage. Take me to it.”) and defined the stakeholders (“ You must be Jules, which would make you Vincent”). After the phase of analysis he made a project plan, built the backlog (“ What I need you two fellas to do is take those cleaning products and clean the inside of the car. (…)”) with tasks and responsibilities unambiguously assigned.
But he didn’t only delegate. He decided to do the most important part of the project by himself (“ Now I’ll drive the tainted car.”).
What innovative companies do differs from cleaning a car from blood in cooperation with gangstas. The bonds between the team members are built on trust and respect to one’s competences. The team spirit and general atmosphere we build in the business deviate from what we saw in the movie. But still: Mr. Wolf guided the team to the final success. The conditions he faced were tough enough to justify his methods.
If you feel you are a new Gene Kranz or a new Mr. Wolf, please let me know. The positions are open.