#NASA Agile Mindset

One of my favourite websites is Digg for the variety of interesting articles that they link to. In reviewing the list of articles today, there was a very interesting article that immediately struck a chord with discussions I have heard about being Agile and having an Agile Mindset.

The Problem

It turns out that a problem was encountered a few years ago with the Constellation Programs. The Ares 1 rockets were encountering excessive vibration that made it impossible for the astronauts to read the new digital displays. The last time NASA had to test for vibration problems was 50 years ago with the Gemini program with all their analog dials. So they enlisted the same group that did the testing for the Gemini program and tested vibration issue with the Ares 1 rockets.

It turns out that the astronauts were experiencing 4 G’s at the point that the solid rocket boosters were burning down. On top of that, the vibration caused by the solid rocket boosters burning down added another 0.7 G’s. It turned out that even the 0.7 G’s made even the largest numbers illegible.

It was at that time that NASA realized that they had a huge problem and started to investigate how they could possible correct the problem. They were investigating counter-measures to offset the vibrations and make the controls readable once again.

The Solution

In an act of pure problem solving genius, someone had the following idea:

“Instead of spending millions of dollars to ensure the astronauts are not experiencing excessive vibrations, what if we just synchronize the astronauts vibrations with the strobing of the display so that the reading would be legible?”


They went through a couple of iterations. The first attempt just tried a strobing frequency of 12 Mhz as the chair the astronauts were in vibrated at about that frequency. But in reality, the chair could be vibrating between 10 Mhz to 13 Mhz. So although it was better, it was not good enough. So finally they attached an accelerometer to the chair that would be used to exactly synchronize the frequencies between the chair and the display. It was perfect.

An Agile Mindset

Besides this being an excellent example of problem solving, I felt it also was a prime example of having an Agile Mindset and being adaptable. I firmly believe that a crucial part of Agile is adapting to the frequency of the project, team, and client. Rather that creating counter-measures to modify the external frequencies (Imposing practices), I feel Agile is about modifying practices and processes to put them in sync with the realities of the project. We all know there isn’t a one size fits all solution out there, but I thought this story was a great example on how adaptation is so important.

Recommending any practices without first being in sync with the project, team, and client is terribly risky. But once you are able to adapt and are in sync, then possible changes can be suggested and implemented to deliver more value to the client.

You can find the full story here.


Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

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