Future of Selling

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5 Project Management Lessons to Learn from NASA’s New Horizons Probe Project

“New Horizons space probe”, “Pluto flyby” are the current buzzword. Tuesday, 14th July, 2015, was that historic moment; where we have proved once again the capability of you and me, us the humans. New Horizons blasted off in January 19 2006, and was the fastest launch recorded, reaching speeds of over 36,000 miles per hour. The spacecraft passed the Moon after just nine hours, around eight times quicker than the Apollo program, and reached Jupiter the following year. After 9.5 years, and traveling more 5 billion kilometers it had reached the orbit of Pluto and even sent back mind boggling images of the youngest planet in our solar system, Pluto.
The New Horizons project is a success. But, that success didn’t come over night. Just like any business projects we carry out in our professional lives, it was a project for NASA. In our business world, we do many projects every year. Some fails, some succeeds and some succeeds beyond expectation. After reading several articles, watching documentaries about New Horizons space probe projects, I personally thing, there’s 5 crucial factors which has lead this project to a successful project. We can surely learn from it and implement in our business projects to make them successful.

Factor # 1 : Team

Without the right team in place, any strategy and plan has the potential of completely falling apart. The New Horizons team comprised of 4 majors teams -Team Leaders, Science Team, Co-Investigators, and Team Leads with defined responsibilities and goal. It is important to assign the right people to each aspect of the project and make sure that they are working well together.

New Horizons Space Probe Project Team

New Horizons Space Probe Project Team

Factor # 2 : Planning

Proper and Detailed planning sets up a project for success from the start. It’s crucial that all the team members are involved in the planning process and always know in which direction the project is going to go. Planning can help the team to meet deadlines and stay organized. For example, New Horizons team planned way ahead in time to ensure that the probe was able to reach Pluto when it’s nearest to us. It’s crucial to remember that Pluto follows a highly elliptical orbit around the Sun. At the closest point of its orbit, called perihelion, Pluto gets to within 4.44 billion km from the Sun. The team planned way ahead in time to ensure that the New Horizons probe reached when Pluto is at the closest point of its orbit. Hence, the probe was able to reach Pluto in quickest time possible at a reliable and realistic time-scale.

Planning_New_Horizons_Probe

Planning New Horizons Probe

Factor # 3 : Foreseeing Risk

During the planning phase, it’s crucial to produce probable list of risks with an action plan for the risks that the project could face. For example, the new Horizons probe is traveling at speed of 84,000 kilometers per hour. Even a small rice grain size space rock can damage the equipment’s on board. The new horizons team were able to take care of this ensuring that the radio antenna was always faced towards the path direction so that if any small objects will hit the large antenna and won’t damage the equipment’s behind it. This gave the team confidence and resulted in success in the project.

New Horizons Risk Amit Biswas

New Horizons Risk Management

Factor # 4 : Improvising

Projects rarely go off exactly as planned. Even after identifying and going through probable risks, teams faces unforeseen risks. It doesn’t mean that that project should be stopped and restarted again. Stopping or restarting a project can be highly costly in terms of money and time. It important to improvise. It’s crucial to openly communicate within the team about it and trying to find a smart solution with least cost and time. Same happened with the New Horizons team. They launched the probe on January 19, 2006. They later realized that they had miscalculated the orbit of Pluto as they didn’t have a lot of information about the planet’s orbit. Later with improvement of technology and in combination with images captured by researchers, the team was able to find the accurate info about the orbit. Hence, they were able to send information to the probe in advance to save the project from total failure.

New_Horizons_Trajectory_Data

New Horizons Space Probe Improvising

Factor # 5 : Project Continuation & Closure

If a project does not have strong closure or succession planning, then it has the potential to continue to consume resources. The project team must be firm and agree that all critical success factors have been met. Some cases, projects turn into actions or evolves into daily routines of the team members. It has to be clearly defined in the project scope, whether the project will end once it has achieved a certain goal or will it continue and evolve to be part of daily work. For example, the New Horizons space probe has received his goal of taking images of Pluto and sending them back. But, it will now continue to go further and explore the universe beyond Pluto till 2030. It’s a classic example of project continuation even after it has completed its main goal.