Aug 07

Passing the point of no return

Pilots will know that when you are taking off there is a speed called V1. The plane has reached such a speed that there is not enough runway ahead of you to stop. So you are committed to take-off. Unfortunately V1 is usually less than V2 – the speed at which the plane can safely get off the ground. Any change after passing V1 – like a critical engine failure – can be catastrophic.

Many projects will feel like they have a similar point of no return. You have spent so much of time, effort, money and emotional investment that you have to go on. Going back to your old process may no longer be an option: it is out of support or it won’t support new statutory requirements.
So what can you do if your project starts to fail after it has built up such a momentum?

Firstly Avoidance: your project management should have identified the risks before they happen, and mitigated them – a four engine plane is inherently safer that a single engine plane.

Secondly Act Decisively: A crew faced with an engine failure on take-off has to act quickly. They will have rehearsed the routines in simulators. Faced with a real situation they act in a split second. Can your project objectives and business case be quickly reconfigured so you still have a viable configuration? Throw out the catering trolleys to reduce weight for take off! But you can only act decisively if you have identified the risk.

If You Can, Stop. It is better to run off the end of the runway than to try to take-off without enough speed.

Finally Learn Lessons. All Air Incidents must be reported. There should be no fear of victimisation. Spin, cover-up or denial will only cause future catastrophes. If the crew followed procedures then they have nothing to fear. “Sully” Sullenberger, the US Airlines pilot who put down his crippled plane on New York’s Hudson River became a national hero. A project failure should lead to a process improvement.
A bank that bought PCs to re-equip its branch network found they were underpowered for the teller application when it was delivered. They could have sold them immediately to recover some cost but that would have realised an accounting loss. So the PCs sat in a warehouse for three years until they could be quietly scrapped. Was that the right outcome for me as a shareholder?

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