Going to the Moon

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50 years ago this month the world’s attention was captured as three American astronauts ventured to the moon and back. It was a technical as well as a leadership challenge. On May 25th, 1961 President John F Kennedy set a major stretch goal – to put a man on the moon, launch weather satellites and other space projects by the end of the decade. Near the end of the speech Kennedy did not pull any punches. He acknowledged that there would be costs.

This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, materiel and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.

He did not live to see the culmination of his vision, but on July 20th, 1969 the Eagle landed on the Sea of Tranquility on the moon. The project was successfully completed with the safe return of all three crew members on July 24th, 1969. Putting in a new system takes the same vision and dedication as the space program did in the 1960s. We remember the achievement yet we forget the costs and toil to get there. Most people don’t remember Apollo 10. It was a successful dry run of everything except actually landing on the moon. It would be like the test data migration of your new system. In a final test run you would migrate your data and put the system through all the paces except actually landing – in this case except for sending invoices to real customers and paying vendors. The amount of effort and grit needed to lead a major system migration tends to be underrated.

As Kennedy noted a moonshot demands a major commitment of manpower and the diversion from other important activities until you can declare “the Eagle has landed”. If you are planning a major system upgrade then consider the following. A major system upgrade is not an upgrade of the server. It is an upgrade of the system and related processes This needs the full involvement of people. Do you have the resources available to do the task? Can you divert some of your staff from their current work for this project? Do you have a clear vision? The vision is more than what you are going to do – it must encompass the results. Putting a man on the moon was a clear task, but it was also in the context of the cold war. America was behind in the space race. Putting a man on the moon first went beyond an engineering task—this was a project that would unify and solidify national identity. In the middle of your large project there will be technical hurdles and staff may question why are we doing this? Why can’t we have our old system? A clear vision outlining the task and the results that everyone can understand and sign up for vastly improves your chances for success.

If you would like to chat about your organization’s cultural values and leadership actions that can improve your chances for project success feel free to contact KDI.

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