So, Friday, January 27th, was the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 tragedy that claimed the lives of astronauts Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. I’ve always been fascinated by the ‘Space Race’ era, but reading the Ars Technica article, I found parallels between the culture of NASA at the time and the AV business… Specifically, what they call ‘Go Fever’. It brought into sharp focus how important project management is and having a process in place that you follow to the letter without fail (or, at least, building in a level of ‘acceptable risk’) may take a little longer, but in the end the outcome turns out for the better. In the lesson of Apollo 1, NASA and its contractors learned that cutting too many corners for the sake of beating the Russians could have disastrous consequences. In fact, if the incident hadn’t happened when it did, the outcome may have been much worse and caused us to lose the race to the moon altogether.
In the AV industry, it’s easy and tempting at all stages of the process to skip ahead in the project plan. We all know what happens when you cut corners in the field disastrous consequences can happen: Think of a speaker cluster falling on a group of people, and the possibility to exact a higher toll in human life than the Apollo 1 fire exists.
Of course, no one usually dies in AV, but short cuts can certainly cause loads of bad things to happen, like ruining our professional reputation. Even in the initial phases of a project, shortcuts can muddle the process, when the person taking that first call or completing the initial site survey decides ‘they’ve seen a million systems just like this one’. A small error in the scope or equipment selection can snowball and have huge effects down the line.
‘Go fever’ is described by Wikipedia as:
“[It] is an informal term used to refer to the overall attitude of being in a rush or hurry to get a project or task done while overlooking potential problems or mistakes. ‘Go fever’ results from both individual and collective aspects of human behavior. It is due to the tendency as individuals to be overly committed to a previously chosen course of action based on time and resources already expended (sunk costs) despite reduced or insufficient future benefits, or even considerable risks.”
When I think of how quickly North American Aviation engineered and built that capsule to meet the tight timetable, and how so many other people involved with the program, including the astronauts themselves, let ‘Go Fever’ impact their judgement; I am reminded of how easy it is to say, ‘the project deadline is X date, so we need to just slap this system together’. Another frequent example of ‘Go Fever’ occurs when sales are needed for the month and jobs are just cranked out into the pipeline, as fast as possible. The details (like the scope, or engineering details) do NOT sort themselves out later.
‘Go Fever’ as a term is also referred to with regards to the subsequent Challenger disaster of January 28th, 1986, and the Columbia tragedy of February 1st, 2003; all three tragedies related to a common mode of thinking, and all around the same time of year…
Share with us examples of Go Fever in your organization. How have you solved for Go Fever in your Organization?