Continuous Improvement Goes To Mars
On Wednesday morning my alarm went to remind me to get up to watch SpaceX's Falcon Heavy take off on it's test flight. Truth be told I didn't need the alarm, I was up already and excited, this was history in the making. Then, disappointment it was delayed by over an hour because the wind conditions weren't quite right.
Finally the wind was good, the fuel was topped off and the countdown ended.. we had lift off! The worlds most powerful rocket cleared the tower and soared into space, the crowds cheered, and I bet a few SpaceX team members breathed a sigh of relief, but that was only a small part of the exercise. Next, we had to get through Max Q, that's the point where the aerodynamic stress on a vehicle in atmospheric flight is maximized, i.e. it's the point most likely to destroy the ship, it was safe.
The next big step was separation of the boosters and returning them back to earth… oh, did I mention they had already used these boosters before? Yep recycled space rockets! The two ancillary or outside cores (aka rockets) returned to earth exactly as planned landing in a controlled synchronised display worthy of a ballet. Then of course there was the centre core, the 1st time trying to land this unit and they decided to reduce the risk by doing it at sea on a remote-control barge, unfortunately that was a miss and they are still looking for the centre core.
Meanwhile David Bowie's voice echoed through the speakers signing Star Man as Elon Musk's all important sense of humour kicks in.. his very own red Tesla Roadster was unveiled with a dummy dressed in a space suit as the final stage that will, all things going to plan, head for Mars. Time will Tell if it makes it.
Plan, Do, Check, Act in Action
Think about everything that could have and should have gone wrong here but didn't, think of all the moving parts, different teams, control systems, safety systems, the processes that had to all work together to achieve this feat. How many times did the SpaceX team try to land a Falcon 9 rocket (Falcon heavy's baby brother and precursor) back on earth & fail.. but each time they picked over the data and they went again.
It's the perfect example of a PDCA loop, they Planned to land the rocket, Tried it , found it didn't work (Do), Checked out why it didn't happen, took Action to change what needed to change, then tried again… yep back round the PDCA loop until they nailed in. Each time of course evaluating the risks of what they were doing. Risk is a big yet under sung part of the Plan Do Check Act improvement loop.
They also didn't start with the Falcon Heavy, they started small scale, looked for quick or lower risk wins, gained knowledge then applied that knowledge to the next challenge, another well-known Continuous Improvement approach. Start small, fail quickly, look for the win and do it again.. quickly!
Not Just For Rocket Scientists!
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to apply the principals of PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) or scale testing & development, you just have to want to do it, and educate everyone about what you are doing to do. If you plan on improving the productivity in your factory this is where to start!
The key with these approaches is that you are expecting to fail, that's how you will learn and improve for the next cycle. Accept the failures as learning points, pick them apart, find the small wins in each test and apply the learnings for the next cycle.
Always remember, the Sky is NOT the limit, your desire and imagination is.
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