We choose to go to the Moon!

50GS-19.2

“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 we intend to win …” JFK 12th September 1962

When John F. Kennedy made his bold statement in 1962 NASA did not have all the resources to achieve this vision and some of the technology required did not even exist at the time. On the 20th of July 1969, nearly seven years later, the Eagle landed and Neil Armstrong took one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Back on earth…a little real life anecdote about a programme manager (PM) brought into an organisation to rescue an ailing multi-million programme. The PM oozed sell-confidence and made a lasting first impression. Shortly after arriving in the organisation the PM made a statement that the programme would, without question or doubt, deliver by a given date. So certain was the PM that they took a permanent marker pen crawled under the board room table and wrote the date that the programme would deliver its first release!

Not quite as bold or as visionary as JFK perhaps but I guess the PM was seeking to lay down a marker and impress the audience with their unwavering confidence and determination. You can guess the outcome….

Way before that delivery date was reached it became obvious that: –

  • the PM had not gained the confidence of the programme team
  • had lost the confidence of the board
  • stood no chance of delivering the first release on time

The PM subsequently left the organisation.

So what’s my point?

Bold and visionary statements cannot in themselves achieve the desired outcomes…..

JFK had used Lyndon B. Johnson, the then Vice President, to consult extensively with NASA. The NASA geeks knew that with the right investment in resources and with technology developments already in the pipeline the target, though hard, was realistic and achievable. JFK had a strong base of support and had the necessary authority to ensure that NASA received all the resources required to turn his words into reality.

Contrast that with the PM:-

  1. The PM did not consult extensively prior to making their statement.
  2. The PM had not taken appropriate steps to understand what were the real or perceived obstacles and how they might be overcome.
  3. The PM had not established themselves within the organisation and didn’t have a strong support base.
  4. The PM did not necessarily have all the authority and backing to ensure that the required resources were in place even if they had known what they were!

In short the PM believed that through sheer force of personality and their supreme confidence they could ensure that the delivery date would be met.

If the PM had taken the time to listen to credible concerns while filtering out the naysayers and prophets of doom then they may have understood the real size of the challenge that the programme faced.

With the challenge, opportunities, dependencies, risks and issues more visible (to all) there would have been a much better chance of constructing a realistic and achievable plan. With a realistic and achievable plan, there would have been more buy-in and confidence that the delivery date would be met would have risen across the organisation.

Who knows, instead of the PM writing the delivery date on the underside of the board room table the CEO may have been inclined to write the delivery date on the reception wall!

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