One thing that is always important, is to have a clear vision of what would be a success. This always helps navigate through obstacles, challenges, delays, etc. Otherwise, it is very easy in long and complex project to be thrown off track.
Four Lessons the Mars Rover Can Teach Us About Project Management Teams
On August 6, 2012 NASA engineers celebrated the successful landing of Curiosity, a nuclear powered robotic rover sent to discover if life ever existed on Mars. With years of planning, developing, testing, and implementing, Curiosity finally reached its destination allowing scientists the opportunity to finally start their work (see this video of the celebration). A project this size is carried out by some of the best and brightest project managers and team leaders in the world. What can we learn from this monumental project to implement into our project management teams?
The development of Curiosity was delayed by two years and cost over $1 billion more than was budgeted. On top of that, the travel time from Earth to Mars was almost 9 months long with plenty of obstacles along the way. How many times do you get frustrated with your project teams getting off track or delayed? Or when you want results immediately? NASA knew the importance of this mission and kept working towards the ultimate goal of safely landing Curiosity on Mars. Maintaining a position of resolve with your project teams is critical for the overall success of the project. There will always be distractions, problems, and challenges and the team needs to understand these obstacles are not the end result. Sometimes time and hardships are the foundations of a great project team.
Curiosity was the fourth and most advanced rover sent to Mars since 1996. NASA wasn’t sending it over for a joy ride. They had very specific goals in place for this mission from the beginning. NASA had six main scientific objectives with the main one seeing if Mars ever supported life. What are the goals for your project teams? Do your team members know what they are? Setting well defined goals for employees allows everyone to measure results along the way and work towards a common end. This includes end goals as well as monthly, weekly, and perhaps even daily goals.
It takes 14 minutes for radio waves to reach Earth from Mars. With this delay in time, Curiosity had already been on the ground for 7 minutes before NASA knew it. They referred to the landing as “7 minutes of terror”. There were so many things that could have gone wrong with the landing: opening of the parachute, releasing the heat shield, detaching the back shell, etc. All NASA could do was wait and trust that all their hard work and planning was going to pay off. Often times with complex projects, managers can’t be everywhere at every minute. Do your team members have clear instruction on what their roles are? Do you trust that they will be able to carry out the task when you aren’t there to oversee them? Have you set expectations for when and how communications should occur?
Now that Curiosity has landed, NASA expects that scientists will be working 16-hour days for the first few months. Part of those long grueling days will be 3:00 a.m. meetings to discuss the upcoming day’s instructions. While this project will be long and tiresome, the scientists realize they are working on something that could have a huge impact on human history. Do your team members have pride in their work? Giving your team members vision of the project’s importance can instill a sense of pride that will result in dedication.
Michel Dion, PMP, CPA
Founder and Developer of Project-Aria
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Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers: Achieve Better Results in a Dynamic World