Wednesday 22 July 2009

Work the problem

Anyone who has not been in a coma this last week will know it is the 40th Anniversary of Armstrong and Aldrin landing on the moon. Whatever your views on the space programme it is hard not to be impressed by the scientific and engineering achievements this milestone represented.

As footage of the space missions is played over and over again (at least in my house) one phrase is heard repeatedly:

“Work the problem, guys.” “Work the problem.”
I can find no evidence that the words “work the problem” were uttered with the regularity that the film footage suggests, but I can imagine something similar might have been said.

As tempers and personalities flare and flash it is tempting to get defocused with who did what and why, instead of what needs to be done. NASA couldn’t afford to defocus; this was a critical time for them. They knew the eyes of the world were upon them, and that they were working with difficult and untried technology. They also knew that mistakes could mean the loss of life of their colleagues. I can’t imagine anything with more pressure.

So those 3 simple words encapsulate quite a lot:
  • Stay focused on the issue
  • Don’t let irrelevant details take attention away from what needs to be done
  • Keep focused until the problem is solved
Having a process to solve problems can save time and tantrums, and improve the final outcome:
  • Identify and define the problem
  • Determine possible causes
  • Agree the cause of the problem
  • Evaluate possible solutions and select one
  • Implement the solution
  • Check that the problem has been solved

Not all our problems are rocket science, but that doesn’t make them any less important in achieving our goals.


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