Neil Armstrong: courage and poise

Posted by on Aug 27, 2012 in Leadership | 0 comments

The mission started off flawlessly.  Gemini VIII ascended, approached the Agena rendezvous craft as planned, and the first time two spacecraft had ever been docked in space was accomplished handily.  Then, without apparent reason, the two docked spacecraft began to roll.  This was first noticed by the co-pilot.  The pilot immediately took control with the Orbital Attitude and Maneuvering System (OAMS), which seemed to stop the roll.  But as soon as he turned the system off, the docked craft began to roll again. Ground Control made the assumption that something was wrong with the Agena and informed the crew that they should turn off power to the Agena.  When they did, the rolling stopped for a few minutes; but ultimately, both spacecraft started to roll again.  It was at this point that the co-pilot noticed that Gemini’s fuel level was at 30 percent.  This indicated to the pilot and co-pilot that the problem was with their craft, not the Agena.  Gemini VIII transferred control of the Agena back to Ground Control and proceeded to undock....

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Make decisions…the ones that need to be made

Posted by on Jul 24, 2012 in Leadership | 2 comments

It was hot in July and there was no air conditioning. The meetings took place weekly, but this one was different.  The leader of the group got up and read a document that he had prepared before the meeting and then asked the group what they should do about it.  The group was shocked by the scope of change that was proposed.  Of the seven that were there, only two stated that they would support it.  The rest either outright opposed it or thought it was not in the best interest of the group.  The debate lasted a couple of hours.  At the conclusion of the meeting President Lincoln thanked his cabinet, but had already decided to go forward with the Emancipation Proclamation. If President Lincoln had followed what the group had recommended, many people would not have the freedom that we all enjoy today and I suspect that the Civil War would not have gone as it did.  Instead, President Lincoln set in motion a new course for a nation and an example for the world.  There are times when a leader must make decisions that are contrary to the popular thinking at the time.  It is by leading that the leader makes all the difference in the world.  I can’t tell you when you should make decisions that are not popular, but I can tell you that they will most likely come from the heart or gut and will “feel” like the “right” thing to do.  They may not always work out, but only by leading the group into territories that are not currently being explored do we learn and grow....

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The Britney Spears approach to facilities operations: “Oops, I did it again.”

Posted by on Jul 13, 2012 in Facilities Management, Incidents/Downtime, Leadership | 3 comments

I can only speculate as to what caused Amazon’s latest outage, an apparent “loss of power.”  But this week, I’m going to express my opinions in no uncertain terms – fair warning.  In my experience, most organizations actually CHOOSE to have outages.  I don’t care what their sales slogans promise.  They choose to have outages.  If you don’t believe me, just read their SLAs (Service Level Agreements).  Most offer some sort of guarantee of uptime or service availability.  Amazon guarantees 99.95 percent uptime – or about 0.72 minutes of downtime a day.  It translates to more than four hours a year.  Beyond that, most will give you “credit” toward the loss of service with either billing credit or more services.  So as long as the outage is less than four hours per year, no foul.  You might even get a “We’re sorry.”  Rackspace offers a 100 percent uptime guarantee but will only reimburse 5 percent of your monthly fee for every half hour of outage.  So if you have 10 hours of downtime, you don’t have to pay the monthly fee.  Not a great option if your business is global and your average revenue is a million dollars/hour....

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IT vs. Facilities vs. Security vs. Vendors vs. ______ playing well in the sandbox

Posted by on Jun 3, 2012 in Facilities Management, Leadership | 3 comments

Rivalries between people are caused by competing goals, limited resources, or personal issues.  As the leader of an organization, you can control goals and resources.  When it comes to personal issues, more often than not you wind up removing them from the organization one way or another. The different groups within organizations also operate as people do in the sense that collectively they have competing goals and must vie for limited resources.  It’s natural that rivalries would develop as groups with divergent goals compete for limited resources; but, left unchecked, rivalries can be very detrimental to the efficiency of an organization as a whole.  So how do you as a leader of such an organization prevent this type of rivalry and create an environment that promotes cooperation and organizational efficiency? Communicated goals tend to unify organizations The answer lies in communicating the goals and priorities of the organization.  While goals usually remain consistent over long periods of time, priorities can actually change from day to day – even hour to hour.  Yet when everyone knows the goals and understands the priorities, they will naturally work toward those as informed.  Leadership needs to make sure that each group understands how their tasks work to achieve the goals and where they fit into the priorities of the organization as a whole.  It sounds simple enough, but it’s actually far more difficult to put into practice. So hopefully an example or two will illustrate how things can go awry....

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Failure is inevitable

Posted by on Apr 23, 2012 in Facilities Management, Leadership, Training | 3 comments

In the mission critical environments industry, we often talk about that “failure is not an option” – and for the most part, we believe that and work toward that goal.  But the stark reality is that failure is inevitable.  At some point in the future, everything will fail.  We do not have unlimited resources, nor do we have perfect engineering or flawless operations.  Whether we look at air travel, nuclear power plants, or even the brakes on our cars, failure occurs.  We build backup systems for those inevitable failures, but even the backup systems will fail.  I have seen quadruple backup processes fail.  The only thing we can do is try to mitigate the results of failure and/or how often it occurs. So how do we cope with inherently dangerous or expensive processes and their inevitable failure?  In some cases, we deem failure an “acceptable risk.”  We calculate the chance of failure as Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF), the likelihood of an event is 1 in 200,000 years, 100-year flood plains, et cetera.  The number of deaths per passenger mile on commercial airlines in the United States between 1995 and 2000 was about three deaths per 10 billion passenger miles.  Not bad, but not perfect either – three people died per 10 billion passenger miles.  Is that an acceptable risk?  Probably not if you’re one of the three.  But even in the highly regulated, inspected and trained world of commercial air travel, failures occur.  What I wonder is, If we doubled the resources that we use in that industry for safety, would we see a reduction to 1.5 deaths per 10 billion passenger miles?  What if we spent ten times what we do now?  Would the statistic be reduced to 0.3 deaths per 10 billion passenger miles?  At what point do we run out of resources, and can we ever get it to zero failures?  The answer is no, there will always be something unforeseen – just ask the management of the Fukushima nuclear power plants....

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Where contests are really won

Posted by on Mar 9, 2012 in Facilities Management, Incidents/Downtime, Leadership | 1 comment

Santiago Botero is a Colombian professional bicycle road racer.  He’s best known for winning the mountains classification in the Tour de France, and the World Championship Time Trial.  During the 2000 Tour de France, he kept a daily diary of his thoughts and progress for a newspaper back in Colombia.  What follows was his entry for a part of the race that took place in the mountains: “There I am all alone with my bike.  I know of only two riders ahead of me as I near the end of the second climb on what most riders consider the third worst mountain stage in the Tour.  I say ‘most riders’ because I do not fear mountains. After all, our country is nothing but mountains.  I train year-round in the mountains.  I am the national champion from a country that is nothing but mountains.  I trail only my teammate, Fernando Escartin, and a Swiss rider....

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