#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.