“Whoopsy Daisy Angel”

I’ve just been to see my daughter in her first school Nativity play. I say Nativity play, as yes it did have Mary & Joseph, but headlining was Whoopsy Daisy Angel, singing a catchy little number which I can’t get out of my head. It was a very inclusive play, not in the PC way, but more how do you include 50 four & five year olds in a play, that let’s face it, only has about 10 main players.

The more I watched, the more it reminded me of Project Management.

The initial design was simplicity itself, Mary, Joseph & baby Jesus in a crib. But undeterred with having the basic requirements, a whole new raft of additional features was added. Shepherds and angels, OK I’m with you, I’m sure it was 3 Kings not 6, but if you don’t ask you don’t get I suppose. A good sized flock of sheep, some donkeys and the occasional camel were also in the ensemble. It’s stretching it a bit to have snowflakes, in the desert I ask you, but all was revealed as the story unfolded.

As an aside, there was an interesting school-gate discussion between an irate mother and the teacher, demanding to know what a little boy angel costume looked like. The calm response was that little Johnny was not an angel (we all suspected that), but was in fact a shepherd.

So the play commenced, with lots of surreptitious waves as the cast came on, though in fairness, the vast majority of waving came from the audience. Mary & Joseph were obviously under strict instructions not to move a muscle throughout the performance. Unfirtunately, the headband holding Mary’s headscarf slowly slipped down, until it became a blindfold, covering her eyes, leaving her looking like a scene from a Middle Eastern hostage situation.

There were other similarities to the Middle East as the various factions competed for superiority. The snowflakes felt superior to the angels, however there were more stars than snowflakes and angels combined, so the power of numbers looked to take the upper hand. It might have looked like a lost cause, but the camels were holding hands with the sheep, so maybe’s there’s hope.

The snowflakes tok to the stage, whirling around in a high-speed ring-a-ring-a-roses that was so fast the wobbly things on stalks flew off their heads randomly, just like decisions from a Project Board meeting.

Everyone in the audience focused on their own little star performer (snowflake number 2 won the prize for me), but like my project, high above the Hurley-Burley, there was one constant and unwavering star, leading the way dynamically forward. (I’m happy to accept a Christmas bonus in shares to avoid tax penalties, Boss.)

The biggest applause went to a little boy, shy as a mouse, who after a bit of prompting, got up and said his piece. Another aside is that at my sister’s school, she got a letter from a parent saying that little Johnny couldn’t be an angel in the play as he wasn’t well enough behaved. She lost the letter, till after the show.

Anyway, conducting and controlling this mayhem, with a confidence and aplomb that was amazing to watch, was the class teacher and her assistant. Nothing phased them, everyone deemed it all to be a huge success and there were lots of smiley faces.

As I said, the more I watched, the more it reminded me of Project management. There for all to see were the obvious comparisons with the teaching miracle workers and the awesome effectiveness of Project Managers and their Project Support Officers. Before you unfairly respond, remember it’s the season of goodwill and that Whoopsy Daisy Angel, much like my blogs, are largely fairy stories.

Season’s Greetings

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“I Will Remember Them”

Well it’s Remembrance Day and as an ex-military man, it always comes with poignant memories. I lost quite a few really good friends, comrades-in-arms, all real heroes, during my twenty-odd years flying about in RAF jets. Time is a great healer and I do find that I now look back and remember my mates’ spirit and the various scrapes and adventures we enjoyed together. Most unprintable and thankfully before cameras on mobile phones became common-place :)

Flying is a strange game. Whether you’re flying Ops in war zones, training for deployment or even mundane daily training, no matter where you are in the World, your uninvited wing-man was always the Grim Reaper. When tragedy too-often struck, I’d rage about the injustice so angrily and beautifully expressed in the opening of Dylan Thomas’s marvellously apt poem.

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

But for me a line in a later stanza captures the Joie-de-vivre of the good people I had the privilege to know

“Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight”

‘Tom’ who after a really heavy night would spend the whole night sobering up by ironing. As dawn broke he’d have a pile of thrashed shirts and hands with third-degree burns.

‘Dick’ who arranged all the logistics and ‘entertainment’ for my 24-hour endurance stag-night in Alaska. Never to be forgotten.

‘Harry’ who flew too close to the burning Sun and was claimed by the unforgiving desert sands of time.

Daft memories and I could go on, but I know their names mean lots to me and little to you. Plus in this current climate I’m certain you’ve your own memories of fallen comrades. I’m immensely proud of the public support we give to our Armed Forces, typified by Royal Wootton Bassett. Long may this continue.

Come rain or shine I’ll be outside at 11 o’clock, honouring the memory of those who throughout history and sadly right up to the present day, have made the Ultimate Sacrifice in the Service of their country. I’ll finish with Binyon’s “Ode of Remembrance”

“They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”

I’ll stand proud during the 2 minute silence, go slightly misty eyed during the “Ode to Remembrance” and during the ever-emotive playing of the Last Post on the haunting bugle, then tip my hat and quietly smile at the memories of those fine people with whom I was proud to Serve.

I will remember them.

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“Shifting Sands 2”

Further to my sandcastle nightmare Shifting Sands and how my little daughter has no concept of the rigour required of Project Management, here’s another salutary tale of woe.

The Senior User (daughter true age 6 – attitude 16) told the Project Executive (mum, aged 21, with a few years experience), that she wanted a car produced in the sand. The Project Manager, (me, age – should know better), was given the mandate, “Build her a car”.

I know my place in the beach pecking order, so I duly set off with a bucket and spade, drew out the outline of the car and started digging. About 30 minutes later I reckoned I was halfway through the construction phase of a 1/3rd scale, replica model of Lewis Hamilton’s current F1 McLaren-Mercedes. The Senior User wandered over, “Is it ready yet?” “Almost finished, about 5 minutes” I replied, which the astute amongst you will have noticed does not tie-in with the previous estimate. “I’ll be back”, which may give you flashbacks to the Terminator, but is far scarier when uttered by my most unreasonable client.

As promised, five minutes later another visit from the Senior User, eating a bag of Cheesy Wotsits (the current snack of choice). “What’s that? I wanted a car”. Before I could explain the intricacies of the representation of the active suspension system, the bombshell landed. “I wanted a Big Red car like the Wiggles”.

“I can change it” I blustered. “It’s only requires a minor configuration change” and “Can I have a Cheesy Whotsit?” The response was that soul-destroying sigh that only a disappointed daughter can emit as she wandered off to talk to the Exec.

I worked feverishly, the aerofoil became the boot, the finely chiselled nosecone was blunted and squared off, the high-traction slick tyres converted into bulbous comedy wheels and the re-work was nearing completion, with only a minor time slippage, but well within tolerance.

Suddenly the client came bounding over, laughing excitedly. My heart soared, success was in the air, rejoice, the client was happy.

“Dad, dad, come and see my boat !”
“What boat?”
“Uncle John has built me a boat”
“But look at the car I’ve built”
“I don’t want a car”

And that was it, the project died. I wandered over to see the boat, which in all honesty was not a true representation and the scaling was way out. But the client seemed happy. Accepting defeat, I feebly uttered
“Can I have a Cheesy Whotsit?”
“No, I gave the last one to Uncle John”.

I wandered off down the beach to buy an ice-cream.

So what lessons have I learned along the way?
An incomplete mandate is not a good basis for a project.
Once the client is no longer interested, you’re sunk.
If you don’t check what the client realy wants, you can wave goodbye to the Cheesy Whotsits.
And finally, if it’s all gone horribly wrong, eat ice-cream.

Have a Great Weekend

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“Shifting Sands 1”

I’ve just been on holiday in Cornwall. On the beach every day building sandcastles, which for a project manager is a complete nightmare.
Why? Because my little daughter has no concept of the rigour required of Project Management. She is the most unreasonable client I have ever worked for.

We had an initial mandate of “I want to build a sandcastle”, which rapidly went off track.
“Bigger” – Scope creep
“Move it over there” – requirements change
“Help me” – additional resource
“How about a flag on top?” – not initially in the budget !!
“Let’s decorate it with sea-weed and shells” – way off-spec

OK, I’m used to working in this sort of high-pressure environment and re-planning accordingly, but the final request was even too much for me. “Daddy, can you stop the sea coming in please?”
Even on Day 5 I hadn’t managed this and the sandcastle was swept away again.
Anyway, we spent the contingency budget on ice-cream and a little windmill, which seemed to please everyone.

So what lessons have I learned:

Holidays are great
Sandcastles are fun
You can’t stop the tide
If it’s all gone horribly wrong, eat ice-cream

Have a Great Week

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“When Failure Is A Success”

I was at a seminar recently and the question came up about the risk appetite of an organisation. One delegate was saying that their organisation was very risk adverse. It was noted that annual performance assessment reporting did not help as it is viewed that if your project fails, you get marked down.

Question: As a Project Manager, does this mean that your project cannot fail in order to get promoted?

Answer: NO, NO, NO !!

I’m sure you’ve all been on a ‘death march’ project.
(Wiki) In the software development and software engineering industries, a ‘death march’ is a dysphemism for a project that is destined to fail. Usually it is a result of unrealistic or overly optimistic expectations in scheduling, feature scope, or both, and often includes lack of appropriate documentation, or any sort of relevant training. The knowledge of the doomed nature of the project weighs heavily on the phyche of its participants, as if they are helplessly watching the team as it marches into the sea. Often the death march will involve gruelling hours, weekends, or by attempting to ‘throw (enough) bodies at the problem’ with varying results, often causing burnout.
The addition of extra people then invokes Brooks’s law, which is the principle in software development, which says ‘adding manpower to a late software project makes it later’.
This is not a good place to be, but eventually the project is deemed a success (or dropped quietly and never spoken about again) and the lucky few that are still standing check into rehab for some well-deserved rest & recuperation.

So back to annual reports, bonuses and promotion. Well I hate to break it to you Project Mangers out there, but your project, is not really yours. I know you’ve given blood, sweat and tears in trying to deliver it and that you view it as your baby, but in the cold light of day, it’s owned by the Board and is driven by the Business Case. Sorry.

So if you have an objective in your performance criteria of “Deliver Project X in accordance with appropriate Project Management standards”

According to PRINCE2, an appropriate standard, ‘If a Business Case is valid at the start of the project, but this justification disappears once the project is underway, the project should be stopped’.

So bear this in mind. If your project has been stopped, as despite your best efforts it no longer will achieve the benefits identified in the Business Case, then the project may have failed, but you have successfully and professionally managed the process, possibly saving the Company millions of pounds and/or human resource impact. Hold your head up high, log the Lessons Learned and move on with confidence to your next project.

Fail early, fail cheaply !!

Have a Great Weekend

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“It’s a Risky Old World”

I’ve been on a Risk Management refresher course this week, with one of the aims: Teach fundamental risk tools and concepts appropriate to any environment.

I used to be a navigator flying in fighter aircraft (Phantom & Tornado). This was considered to be a high-risk profession, certainly by my life insurance company, who added astonishing premiums to the fee, with the policy exception that I was not covered in a war zone (then covered by MoD). When I first started flying, the fast-jet world was having on average 2 deaths a month due to training accidents, so companies had obviously looked at the risks and charged accordingly.

However, did I view this as a risky job? Well not really, (the ride to work on my motorbike was far riskier). The reason being that there was a robust risk management strategy. The risks had been identified using a variety of methods, with great emphasis being placed on Lessons Learned. These were actually initially defined as Lessons Identified, as until they were implemented and regularly practiced, they were not considered Lessons Learned. The potential impact of the risks were assessed and then prioritised to determine which had the greatest impact/likelihood. This was in both the training and more importantly, the Operational environment. This is where intelligence about the bad-guys equipment, tactics, readiness and capability was analysed. The risks to us were assessed and a strategy/plan developed to minimize casualties. Effective risk response strategies were put in place to prevent, reduce, accept, contain or transfer any impact.

Interestingly, there was an unusual correlation between the people killed in training and their experience level. New crews tended not to get killed too often in training. This was generally because they flew with experienced people, were effectively supervised and mentored. They also had a healthy respect for the dangers of flying and recognised they did not fully understand or have the capability to cope with all situations.

The ‘old-hands’ were also a low-death group, as they had a vast amount of experience, most probably had a few near-misses along the way and had seen how their peers had got killed. They knew not to get involved in certain situations and if they did, how to extract themselves quickly and safely.

The biggest casualty area was the guys in the middle, who thought they knew all the risks and could cope with anything and everything thrown at them. Sadly this was not always true, often with tragic circumstances.

As a final thought, each mission we flew was rated low, medium or high. A Low risk mission meant all come back with no losses, so if it were getting a bit fraught, we’d retire gracefully from the fight or otherwise termed “Run Away bravely !”. Medium risk missions meant a level of attrition was acceptable to get the job done. The final category, such as Cold-war fighter escort missions, was termed High-Risk. This meant a mission of no return, such as escorting bombers into enemy territory until we ran out of fuel, then eject and find your own way home.

So my advice to you, work hard to understand the risks you face on projects, plan accordingly, try not to be a know-it-all and never volunteer for a High Risk Mission.

Have a Great Week

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“Luck Be A Lady Tonight”

Well today’s Friday 13th, but fortunately as a fully trained Project Manager, I don’t believe such superstitious nonsense will affect my projects – touch wood. Anyway, to misquote the golfer Arnold Palmer “It’s a funny thing, the more I plan (practice) the luckier I get”. Though in fairness, there is another school of PM thought, which is that the nice thing of not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise rather than being preceded by a long period of worry and stress.

Part of the planning process is sorting out the potential risks and what you’re going to do about them if they happen.

We used to do a lot of this sort of planning when I was in the flying game. Some were major, most were minor, but we considered and practiced them all regularly in the Flight Simulator. We used to carry a set of Emergency Flight Reference Cards (EFRCs), which covered all sorts of things like engines catching fire, hydraulics failing, etc. (If you’re flying off on holiday today, I’m sure it’ll be fine – crossed fingers obviously). But before that we’d have a bunch of immediate actions, which we’d memorise to deal with the immediate danger.

So here’s a tale. There we were, based in Nellis, Las Vegas, flying out over the Nevada Desert on Exercise Red Flag. For those of you that have seen Top Gun, well think much, much more bigger (and the aircrew much, much more handsome). You’d regularly have more than 50+ multi-national aircraft in the training area, (which is about half the size of Switzerland), with bomber packages carrying live-munitions, fighters, slow flyers, tankers, AWACs, all up against Red Air, which included a dedicated aggressor squadron flying enemy tactics, plus SAMs & AAA on the deck. All this was instrumented, so that at the debrief you could see how successful your missile shots were, if the bombers got through and if you’d have been shot down by the bad guys. Aerial 3-d chess at just about the speed of sound – yehaa.

Anyway, even in the training environment, the real-life things that could kill you, were hitting the ground – not recommended, (but has claimed lives and jets with the crew ejecting), mid-air collisions and one of the key ones when the excitement built, was….

So sat in the back of a Luftwaffe F4f, fully engaged at 7g with a couple or more of the Migs, the cockpit alarm shrieked into my helmet earpieces and the Master Caution started to flash vivid red. A quick glance at the warning panel, “Low Fuel”.

Low fuel this early in the sortie was normally due to the external tanks not feeding properly. My pilot called out the immediate actions, he was recycling the fuel switches, I acknowledged, whilst I got a radar lock on a bad guy – called the shot and dumped out a batch of chaff & flares to defeat any incoming missiles. Next fight – interrupted by more flashing lights, same cause – strange, the drill normally cured the issue. “OK, head 120 and climb” – we needed to sort this – convert speed to height – might not solve anything, but it made ejecting a bit less risky. I got out the EFRCs and thumbed to Fuel. I called out the actions, pilot moved the switches, I checked the circuit breakers in the back, all looking good, then waited a couple of seconds for the fuel to start flowing and back into the melee. Nothing – the caption stayed persistently & annoyingly on.

Ooops. This meant we really, really were really, really low on fuel and a long way from base. “What height should I level off?” “Don’t just keep climbing – 40,000+ would be good”. Also if you can get up into the thinner air you use less gas. It’s a bit like trying to save fuel in a car, set constant revs and don’t play about with the throttle, though the consequences weren’t roll onto the hard-shoulder, but flame-out and eject. We were now into the section of the EFRCs, which you knew about, but hoped you’d never need. An example was “What to do if the outer wing falls off” – we were well and truely into “Save Your A**e” territory.

Now normally, you’d get to height, just point at Nellis and not deviate. Unfortunately between us and Vegas was Area 51 – which many of you will know is where they keep the aliens – allegedly.

We kept on climbing at constant revs, levelling out really quite high, which meant we didn’t have too much of that lovely fuel sloshing about. Another run through the fuel drills, just in case, then let all the fuel settle down and make a decision. If you even clipped the corner of Area 51 – we’d been told you’d be having a nice long chat with the Men in Black – then Zapp with a Sonic Screwdriver and deported back to Germany. It did have a nice long runway though, why I’ve no idea – wink, wink, so diverting into there and accepting the chat with Will Smith was an option, but not a very good one.

But it looked OK, maybe just outside of normal tolerances, but OK, we could make it home if we cautiously edged our way around the Prohibited Zone. We breathed a sigh of relief, thanked our lucky stars for our decision last night in down-town Vegas, to buy Lucky Elvis Amulets. All was looking good, then transmitted – “Nellis, Nellis, this is Iron Eagle 05 – RTB” “Roger Iron Eagle, we’re on Runway 03, descend to 10,000’, call level”.

Now this wasn’t ideal for a few reasons, one – we didn’t want to give up our precious height and descend into the thicker fuel draining atmosphere, also if we ran out of fuel and the engines flamed out, the Phantom glided like a brick, so we were unlikely to get anywhere useful. Second, Runway 03 meant we had to fly all the way to the south, over the Vegas Strip, which would not really be the best place to jump out and dump a jet.

Our final throw of the dice. “Nellis – request stay at height and land Runway 21?” – in effect landing against the flow. I think they’d seen this all before and guessed our predicament or just responded to the pleading, begging and sobbing coming over the airwaves, but either way, “No problem, wind light and variable, clear descent when ready”. We began our cruise descent, dropping the gear at the last minute and rolled to a standstill, closing down an engine on the runway just to make sure we could taxy back to dispersal – we shut down with vapour in the pipes.

Just as we were about to climb out of the jet, a blacked-out SUV started to come menacingly down the line of Phantoms towards our jet (we broke out into a cold sweat), then it cruised slowly by, as we clutched our 4-leaf clover. The groundcrew came to see us later and told us that the fuel valve had been stuck due to a combination of sand and grease and that they’d never put so much fuel in a jet in all their lives.

So what have I learnt: –
If things go awry
Remember the Continuous Improvement Cycle – Plan Do Check Act
Plan an effective response
Do the plan
Check the response solves the problem
Act again if required
You never know – it just might be your lucky day.

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“Two Thirds Dead”

I had a day of realisation last week. I was listening to the radio and they were discussing some Z-List celebrity, who they reckoned was having a mid-life crisis. The man in question was 32 years-old. The second reference to a mid-life crisis was about someone who they assessed as being right in the bracket. The man in question was 35 years-old.

The premis was that as the average life expectancy was about 60-80, then a mid-life was about 30-40 years old.

Now I’m still waiting for my mid-life crisis, which is good and bad news. As I’m 47 years-old, then if I haven’t had a mid-life, then I should live to be at least 82. the bad news is athat I might have missed out.

But more worryingly, is that if I take 70 as the mid-range, then at 47 – I’m TWO THIRDS DEAD !!!!!

Even stranger, is the fact that I’m about to become a Dad again. So I might not be having a mid-life crisis, just going for a full blown fantasticly major life-changing experience. I’ll be blogging all about the trials and tribulations of ‘The Journey’. Feel welcome to join me, help & advice always welcome.

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“The Black Arrows Crash”

As we once again approach Display Season, it’s a reminder that unfortunately the Red Arrows had a crash a bit ago, with one of the pilots ejecting and suffering a dislocated shoulder.

Many of you may not know that the Red Arrows are just the latest in a series of RAF aerobatic teams. One of the more famous was Treble One’s aerobatic team The Black Arrows, who famously looped 22 Hunter aircraft in close formation, (a record that still stands today?).

Back in the 80’s when I was on Treble One Fighter Squadron, it was decided to reform the Black Arrows for the RAF Leuchars ‘Battle of Britain’ Open Day. As opposed to the light and nimble Hunter or Hawk aircraft, we were going to fly in the Phantom, which is basically a big ugly fighter aircraft, not known for its agility. The formation was going to consist of 5 aircraft and quite sensibly, rather than loops and rolls, was going to fly in a series of formations including, as befitting a Scottish based Squadron, St Andrew’s Cross.

It was all very exciting. We had to provide personal profiles for the official Open Day Programme, had our photos taken and eventually me and my pilot officially became Black 5. Come the day of the first practice, we were briefed on the things we were going to do and it looked like a good plan. We knew it was a good plan, as the Air Officer Commanding 11 Group had approved it.

We duly took off and flew out to our pre-booked exclusion zone over the North Sea. We did a few warm-up exercises, just to get into the swing of it and then the call came to close up for St Andrew’s Cross. All was looking good as we flew straight and level, but as we started our banked turn to port, it all started to go wrong and time went into slow-motion.

The front right aircraft started to slip back; so far that it started to scrape on the nose-cone of the middle aircraft, creating some spectacular sparks. (I began to suspect that things were not going well). It slipped back some more, until the stabilator became stuck in the air intake of the trailing aircraft. (This was definitely not good news). The front-right aircraft then pitched up violently, basically out-of-control and a second or so later the pilot ejected, so close I swear it warmed up our cockpit, leaving an un-manned (well the navigator was still in it at this point), uncontrolled Phantom now barrel-rolling over the formation.

Our break-out manoeuvre as the back-left aircraft was to roll to port. I reckoned this would have put us in collision with the other jet, so was not really a good move any more. After a couple of expletives I shouted “Bunt”, which means push the control column as far forward as is humanly possible. My pilot duly obliged and as we hung in our straps with the blood rushing to our eyeballs, I watched the un-manned jet just miss our tail and a couple of seconds later, the navigator ejected. We eventually all got back to Leuchars, though strangely, we were not allowed to fly at the airshow.

I’ll blog again about the immediate aftermath and other stories, which was total chaos, but here’s a quick snippet.  At the subsequent Board of Inquiry, I was giving my eveidence and describing the events from my perspective. “First the plane slipped back and then there were sparks and then it slipped back some more”. “STOP !!” shouted the Inquiry’s scribe. All heads turned. “He’s just used 2 ‘ands’ in a sentence”. Respect to the Chairman, who calmly stated “He’s a Flying Officer, if he didn’t use 2 ‘ands’, I’d be sorely disappointed”.

So what lessons have I learnt?

Sometimes High Performing Teams get it wrong (Red Arrows), but it doesn’t mean they’re suddenly rubbish.

Sometimes it looks like a good plan (Black Arrows), but in fact it’s rubbish and will fail no matter how good the teams involved.

Inquiries can sometimes focus on trivia and miss the big points.

But despite my sympathy. I can’t let the Red Arrows of the hook. The Navigator’s Union (Unofficial Backseat Drinking Club), always used to refer to the Reds as the ‘Cream of the Air Force’.

The cream as everyone knows, is thick and full of clots.

Have a Great Weekend.

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“What Hit Me?”

Sometimes as a Project Manager, despite your best efforts, something comes out of left field to spoil your day. If you’ve any sense, you brush yourself down; turn it into a positive learning experience, then despite the ‘blame-free’ world we live in, start refreshing your CV and looking for new employment.

As you sit sobbing into your beer, it’s often tempting to reflect on “Could I have seen this collision coming?” The chances are that in similar circumstances, 99 times out of a 100, the answer’s still “No”. But don’t worry it’s not your fault. (A good PM self-preservation strategy).

From my time in the flying game, collisions are very difficult to spot. The reason being that is that if something is going to hit you, visually it remains stationary to you, so always appears in the same spot in the windscreen. The eye is much better at picking up things that are moving, especially your periferal vision, so your brain does not necessarily register the thing that is going to cause you most harm.

This is particularly relevant when watching SAMs, MANPADs or AAA fired at you. If something is going to pass in front or behind of you, it will arc forward or back depending. It all boils down to how brave you’re feeling, what you consider to be an acceptable miss distance, which determines whether to pump out some chaff & flares or employ some significant avoidance strategy. This is the same driving and relative speed does not help or change the situation. This is why many cyclists are knocked down with the car driver saying “I never saw him”.

So how do you avoid missing the thing that’s going to kill you?
We used to have a few strategies.

Individually, we used to adopt a regular scan pattern, moving our head around the cockpit, scanning outside the cockpit, high to low, left to right, inside the cockpit, radar, Radar Warning System etc etc. You get the picture, constantly moving, taking a new perspective and utilizing the miracle of peripheral vision.

As a crew, we’d split responsibilities. On the intercept phase, front-seater eyes out, back-seater, radar & RWR. In a dogfight, pilot aggressive, eyes out front, back-seater, defensive, checking 6, looking for bad guys creaming in.

As a pair, we’d do all of above, plus check each other’s six. It’s easier to watch out for your buddy, than to check dead behind you. You’d see a missile on a collision with your buddy, before they would. With dead being the operative word.

As a formation, well you get the idea.

A thing we used to do flying on Op Deny Flight over Bosnia was that as one flew low & fast to intercept helicopters, the other would stay high and look for missile plumes and generally watch out for your buddy.

So how does this relate to the PM world? Well despite PMs generally being a bunch of egotistical, power-crazed loons, a good PM recognises that it’s a team game. I could list the vital ingredients of a good team, but I’d miss one and then they’d rightly get upset.  If the team is functioning well, then if one is focused on a particular task, the others will take up the slack and ‘Check Six’.

Another good practice is to chat to other PMs about your project. This gives you an informal check or audit, and they might spot something on a collision before you do, giving you time to plan in some contingencies. Several viewpoints mean that the collision is more likely to be seen than operating as a lone wolf.

My final thought. There is also a phenomenon in flying called target fixation. It has been known that crews have been so focused on hitting the target (with bombs, missiles or bullets), they’ve actually impacted the ground exactly where the target is. The end result might have been achieved, target destroyed, but so were they. It’s always good to live to fight another day, whether you’re in a plane or involved in a project.

Off to brush up my CV, any jobs out there?

Have a Great Week

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