Think Your Projects Plans Better: A NASA Triumph

Think Project Plans BETTER

All projects start with a plan, don’t they? OK, let’s cast aside all those projects we’ve been involved in where the ‘plan’ was doodled on a scrap of paper. Hopefully we are all working to a well-formed plan or plans in our projects. Brilliant plans are a delight to work with. They are well considered. Everyone involved plays their part. Nothing goes wrong. Our client changes no parts of the project. Everything is completed on budget. This, unfortunately, in my experience is a rare occurrence.

What if?…

• A plan was well thought through at the outset

• Everyone to be involved had been consulted

• All contributors were able to deliver their part effectively

• Reviews spotted bottlenecks and shortcomings

• Modifications were agreed quickly

• Projects were all delivered successfully, on time and on budget

Maybe great plans can be achieved and delivered if at each stage of your project we THINK about the plan, BETTER.

Understand your project better

A good starting place is to understand what you want to achieve in your project, or what you and your team are expected to contribute.

I love the story of the development of the Lunar Rover. This was to help the Astronauts travers around the Moon. When Neil Armstrong took ‘one small step’ it was actually the start of many small steps because exploration was limited to how far the crew could walk. More extensive journeys on the lunar surface would require a vehicle. Personally, I’d have given them a bike.

With each new project all people who are expected to contribute need to know clearly what their involvement will be. Does everyone really understand the project or is it only assumed they know?

Project plan requirements

Once we are all, (or at least some of us), agreed on our involvement in the project we naturally need to know what is required of us or our team. With some projects this is well formed from the outset. With many new projects this will be a fluid situation. There are processes we can undertake which bring more certainty the projects requirements.

NASA’s original project requirements for lunar transport was to send a Lunar Truck on a 2nd Saturn V rocket. The plan had a cabin, accommodation and could be used for up to 2 weeks away from the base.

Scope of your project plan

It might seem an obvious requirement. Many projects have been delayed, even derailed because the scope of the project hadn’t been fully agreed. This is particularly important when many teams are involved in the work. Importantly, there needs to be agreement about what will happen if the scope of the project needs to be changed. We all know this happens regularly. How often has our client changed their mind!

US Congress determined it was too expensive to send 2 rockets to the Moon. Saturn V production was to be reduced which meant only 1 rocket for each mission. The Lunar Truck would have to fit onto the rocket with the astronauts.

The project plans changed. Scrub ‘truck’, it was to be a much smaller Lunar ‘Rover’.

Schedule Project plan

Timescales often slip. Sometimes we are committed to a deadline without consultation. Maybe the ‘pencilled in’ date for delivery becomes permanent by mistake. There are ways to ensure this doesn’t happen.

The Moon missions were scheduled with many teams playing a part in each part of the project. One team missing a deadline would have massive repercussions. The scope of the project changed but the deadlines remained the same. NASA’s Lunar Rover team had an urgent need to determine the feasibility of a two-man self-contained lander

Project team planning

Ensuring your team plan effectively and continually review their progress can save many problems. Having a team focused and aligned on the project plan is just plain common sense. Embedding some simple habits to check progress and take remedial actions can save time, stress and money.

The Lunar Rover was designed with very clever mesh wheels. These light, grippy wheels were perfect for use on the surface of the moon. The project plan went well up to the testing phase. A quick zip around the test track showed that these wheels performed their function brilliantly, however they were also exceptionally good at throwing up the lunar dust. Everything was covered in debris and the driver couldn’t see anything. Review. New plan. Fenders.

Are you thinking your project plans better?

In order to achieve your desired project result we know that teams must think project plans better. There are good habits the team needs to develop at each stage of the project plan delivery which we will explore in further blogs.

NASA allocated a budget of $19,000,000. New fenders and other extras took the price to $38,000,000. Four lunar rovers were built, one each for Apollo missions 15, 16, and 17; and one used for spare parts. They worked perfectly.

2020-04-20T11:26:26+01:00

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