Rush To Failure Essay

2581 words - 11 pages

EXPERIENCE

HBR.ORG

Case Study
A complex project for the space station must
come in on time and on budget—but the push
for speed might be its undoing. by Tom Cross

The Experts

A Rush
To Failure?

Gary L. Moe
Director, McKinsey Business
Technology Office

T

ILLUSTRATION: BRETT AFFRUNTI

Tom Quinly
President, CurtissWright Controls

HBR’s case studies present fictionalized
accounts of actual dilemmas faced by
leaders, and offer solutions from experts.

here is absolutely no reason why
the contractors shouldn’t be able
to give us rapid product development and awless products—speed and
quality both,” David MacDonagle said as he
tried to light a cigarette. The ...view middle of the document...

The sight reminded Van
Sant of one of MacDonagle’s catchphrases:
“We are a small spacefaring nation.…”
Canada was indeed a small player in
space compared with the U.S., Russia,
Europe, and Japan. Always at risk of being
marginalized, the CAA had done everything possible to get the REACH contractors, Hollenbeck Aircraft and Eskina
Software Systems, to complete the rst
phase of the project in time to get it to the
space station this year, when the orbiting lab would o cially be complete. And,
amazingly, they had made the deadline—
and come in on budget. REACH was now
attached to the station, though there was
still much more to come, including an even
April 2011 Harvard Business Review 127

EXPERIENCE

more sophisticated set of “hands” that
would t on the ends of the robotic arms
for extremely delicate work. The additions
were to continue for two more years.
The contractors had been great about
speed; the problem was quality. Glitches
with the software, motors, and circuits
had kept turning up. The fact was, not a
single test in four years had gone awlessly.
“Yeah, yeah, we can x that,” the contractors’ reps always said, dismissing the CAA’s
concerns. “Hey, this is life in the fast lane,”
a rep told Van Sant after one of REACH’s
arms had failed to retract on command.
“Remember, we told you that the compressed schedule would increase the risk.”
The contract that she managed called
for parallel development, meaning that
the project’s phases—R&D, prototyping,
testing, production, and quality control—
overlapped, with each one beginning while
the previous one was as much as 50%
incomplete. That was sacrilege in some
aerospace circles. But owing to the space
station’s construction deadline and the
ever-present threat of cuts to the CAA’s
budget, the agency was aiming to do a
decade’s worth of work in six years. Computer simulations had to take the place
of some real-world testing. Component
quality control was less thorough. Because
of all the unknowns in the project, the CAA
had agreed to a cost-plus- xed-fee contract, under which the contractors were
paid a speci ed amount over their costs for
labor, materials, and overhead.
MacDonagle’s insistence on a rapid
approach to development had been one of
the main reasons Van Sant had been hired
as a program manager. During her years in
the army, she had established a bulletproof
reputation for being aggressive and goal
oriented. She and MacDonagle saw eye-toeye. She knew speed was critical.
“We’d better go, I guess,” MacDonagle
said. “The media hounds are waiting.
I told them I’d do quickie interviews once
I got back. I know what they’ll ask me:
Is REACH going to work this time?” As
they headed toward the building, the rain
started. He looked at Van Sant. “So is it?”
128 Harvard Business Review April 2011

“I know what the media
hounds will ask me: Is
REACH going to work
this time?” MacDonagle
said.

sues with equipment from the...

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