Aircraft Disaster and Resource Management

Many of you who have read our blog know we are fans of the show Aircraft Disaster on the Smithsonian Channel.  We do not like the show for the disaster part, but the root-cause analysis aspects.  These things are intriguing for engineers.  Root cause analysis is an important skill for design engineers, process engineers, and even project management people.  The latest one I have watched was about Northwest 85, in which the plane suffered a hard over lower rudder in a Boeing aircraft.  On the television show, the root cause was never really determined, though a design modification eliminated the possibility of that incarnation of the failure from coming to pass was introduced.  This is not really something we can really take away from this show and apply to our work lives.  However, there was a compelling argument made on the show was that cockpit resource management helped ensure the safe handling and landing of the aircraft.

All along the way, the crew was uncovering other potential and likely issues to prevent a safe landing of the already crippled plane.  One of the key elements cited, in addition to the quick initial response from the pilot, was cockpit resource management.  There is an analog to cockpit resource management to product development and project management specifically.  In this case, the crew not only uncovered those obstacles but clearly defined who would be doing what, and when.  This is the same approach projects should take even before they end up in trouble. Experience suggests this lack of clear articulation of who is doing what and to what degree ends up presenting significant difficulty for the project and the objectives.  For examples, a missing resource allocation matrix, and risk register with nobody identified for monitoring specific metrics.

In any team work environment, the division of work is essential to coordination of the effort, and not letting any part of the work to fall between the proverbial cracks.  Resource management is essential for product development success as it is for flying an impaired plane, though perhaps the consequences for failure may be less severe.

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