Project Management Truth: On Earth as it is in the Heavens

I’ve often said that managing the active phase of a project is the most crucial part of a project’s lifecycle.  This is when the project’s goals are being worked on. Some have argued that planning is the most important phase. That good planning can take care of anything. An incident on the most recent spacewalk by NASA seems to prove my point.

Two astronauts went out on a spacewalk to fix a particular part on the Hubble Telescope. The part that needed repair was blocked by a handrail. To get to the part, they had to unscrew the handrail. But, of course, the bolt that held the handrail onto the telescope was stripped. They couldn’t use any of their tools to get it off. The plan called for them to use a tool to unscrew the bolt. But it wasn’t working. Eventually, they had to resort to brute force, yanking the handrail off with old fashion muscle, in order to get to the part. They called it ”Plan C.”

My wife and I cracked-up when we heard this. The same thing always seems to happen to our household projects. Nothing ever goes as planned, things take longer and you often have to come up with innovative solutions to achieve your goals (which sometimes involved brute force).  Even with the huge budget, master planners and technical information that NASA has, things don’t always go as planned.

Why is this important?  It has a direct impact on how you structure your projects, the techniques you use and the tools you use for managing projects.

Recognizing that the active phase is the most crucial part of a project’s lifecycle, means that the flow of information from team members to the project manager, and back again, is of utmost importance. It is only by having accurate information that the project manager can understand the situation and implement changes as needed.

Without good information, those astronauts would probably be stuck trying to build a tool that could unscrew the bolt, to go according to plan, rather than just getting the job done.

3 Responses to “Project Management Truth: On Earth as it is in the Heavens”

  1. Susan de Sousa

    Couldn’t agree more. It never ceases to amaze me how many project managers spend all their time writing ever more convoluted plans which then need constant updating. If they spent most of their time managing the project and dealing with issues, firstly they wouldn’t have to modify their plan so much and secondly the project would actually get delivered.


    Susan de Sousa
    Site Editor

  2. Josh Nankivel

    Great points Mark. There is a balance that needs to be maintained between sticking to the plan and getting things done. You should only deviate drastically from the plan when it makes sense, but when it does, the project manager has the ability to change the plan.

    Josh Nankivel