The Apollo Example
John F. Kennedy went before congress and publicly announced the Apollo program
and its quest for the moon. NASA engineers
didn't know how to get a person to the moon back at the time of the 1961 announcement.
This needed to be studied, tested, better understood, developed and attempted.
The purpose behind JFK's announcement was to solidify the dream in the mind of
the paying voter. With that, debate regarding competing budget priorities (e.g. Vietnam)
was off the table. NASA engineers had carte blanche to focus on the challenges
Getting a person to the moon and back requires some sort of launch vehicle,
one with sufficient thrust to lift off but not so much thrust that the occupants
don't survive. Technology was evolving swiftly.
Under a procedure of evolutionary prototyping the project entailed trying things
out, seeing what worked and what didn't, and realigning the methodology within
the overarching objective. The project was like a series of Level 2 initiatives
where formative constructions were merely fodder for learning and were promptly
discarded. Various Apollo missions were launched, some aborted. Apollo 8
encountered an unfortunate death of three astronauts. Finally, it was Apollo 11
that made its way out of Earth's orbit and off to the moon.
From the perspective we introduced for Level 1, and further explored for Level 2,
the trial and error learning sharply reduces the performance expectation. Invariably
the best-laid plan will encounter uncertainty, interim failures and a realignment
of performance expectations.
These initiatives are often the subject of complete re-baselining, requiring
that the project permit be reviewed with approval authorities a number of times
prior to completion.
advocating a hedge factor to account for the uncertainty, the challenge here is
the implications this would pose to project motivations. If you gave the team
more money knowing the initial attempt was not practical, what would that do to
the efficiency of the spend? Rather, it appears to be a necessary requirement
to "hold feet to the fire" within reason while not unduly restricting cost growth.
Wisdom to know how and where to adjust is only learned while the investment
is underway much like playing chess.
If there is hedging to be done, it is perhaps privately with the approval stakeholders
as the project team acquaints them with the reality that, "notwithstanding our
promise to bring this home on time and on budget, this isn't going to happen as
3. Kennedy, John F., Joint session of Congress, United States Government, May 25, 1961.