This Guest paper was submitted for publication and is copyright to Mark A. Seely© 2016.
Published here April 2017

PART 3 | Editor's Note & Table of Contents | Chapter 7: Finding Levels 3 and 4
Chapter 8: Level 3 - Program Management | Level 3 Management | The Apollo Example
Chapter 9: Level 4 - Program Governance | Level 4 Governance | Performance
Chapter 10: Level 5 - Public Governance | Level 5 Governance | PART  5

The Apollo Example

John F. Kennedy went before congress and publicly announced the Apollo program and its quest for the moon.[3] 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 in physics.

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.

For those 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 submitted."

Level 3 Management   Level 3 Management 

3. Kennedy, John F., Joint session of Congress, United States Government, May 25, 1961.
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