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DINNER SPEECH

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The Most Important Lessons You Didn't Learn in Engineering School WILLIAM F. B ALEHAUS, JR. Aerospace Corporation Los Angeles, California Before I begin my comments, I want to show a brief video to set the stage. As leaders in your field, you are expected to make very tough decisions. I'd like you to watch this, and put yourself in the shoes of the characters. Summary of "Challenger" Video The clip opens several months prior to the Challenger disaster in the cafeteria of Morton Thiokol Inc., where Roger, an engineer with the company, discusses with his manager his concern about a potential problem with hardware aboard the rocket that carries the space shuttle into orbit. Previous launches have revealed that outside air temperatures below 53 degrees can damage the pri- mary O rings, impacting the way they seal and resulting in massive hot gas blow-by. Roger has submitted a memo to his Thiokol management expressing his concern about the sealing problem, saying that failure of an O-ring seal could cause a "catastrophe of the highest order." Months later, on the evening before the Challenger launch, the O-ring issue becomes the central topic of debate during a teleconference between the engi- neering team at Morton Thiokol and NASA teams at Marshall Space Flight Center and Kennedy Space Center. The forecast calls for temperatures well below 50 degrees during the launch window, and Morton Thiokol has recom- mended that the launch be postponed until temperatures rise above 53 degrees. Realizing that the launch could be postponed for months, a NASA manager questions the timing of the announcement and the data that support it. Roger makes a final plea, arguing that allowing Challenger to launch with what engi- neers have observed during previous flights would be "an act away from good- 133

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34 FRONTIERS OF ENGINEERING ness. " Although frustrated and angry, NASA management is willing to follow Thiokol's recommendations, but "We've got to make a decision here, and it's got to be based on quantifiable data, " the NASA manager insists. Under pres- sure, the Morton Thiokol team goes online to discuss a final recommendation. 04 line, Roger stands by his opinion that it is better to play it safe and not recommend that the launch proceed. Thiokol managers in the room are more concerned about embarrassment to the company because of the manner in which the issue was raised to NASA. Ultimately, the decision is left to Roger's man- ager, who reconnects to the NASA teleconference and recommends that NASA go through with the Challenger launch. This video gives us some specific lessons on the Challenger accident. It illustrates the importance of people, technical and management judgments, vali- dated processes, personal and organizational accountability, effective communi- cation, and a focus on quality and mission success. I personally learned a great deal from the Challenger accident. Although I was not in the shuttle program chain of command, at the time of the accident I was director of NASA's Ames Research Center; during the return-to-flight ef- fort, I was at NASA headquarters as associate administrator for aeronautics and space technology. Most of you are 30-45 years old. The Challenger accident occurred on my forty-first birthday. I would like to broaden the discussion and share with you the "Most Impor- tant Lessons You Didn't Learn in Engineering School," lessons I have learned during my 35 years in engineering and engineering management. Some of the lessons were easy to learn; others were brutally painful. Some of you may have your own lists. As current and future leaders, I hope you learn from the mistakes of others and apply the lessons learned in your own careers. 1. Learn from the mistakes of others, and never make the same mistake twice. Learn from mistakes, your own and those made by others. Don't repeat either. When there is a failure, anomaly, or out-of-family condition, it's impor- tant to follow a process. First, find the root cause. Second, develop and imple- ment corrective action. Third, share the lessons learned. Fourth, revise pro- cesses to prevent repeating the mistake. An organization's processes and practices are usually the result of les- sons learned from corrective actions developed in response to past anomalies and failures. Processes are designed to yield predictable, repeatable results and eliminate the reliance on heroic actions to avoid failure. General Electric Corporation, which recognizes the importance of learning from mistakes, instituted the practice of putting high-potential

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THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS YOU DIDN'T LEARN IN ENGINEERING SCHOOL 135 people on audit teams early in their careers so they could learn from mistakes made by business unit managers. In that way, GE hoped these high-potential people would avoid making the same mistakes when they became general managers. I have found that organizations often are not as good at inventing new mistakes as they are at repeating the old ones. 2. Focus on mission success. What is mission success? Quite simply, it is making sure that your prod- uct whatever it is works as intended. A focus on mission success is espe- cially critical in high-consequence businesses (e.g., space, nuclear, homeland security, etch. These are "one strike and you're out" businesses in which "fail- ure is not an option." . In any project, you must manage cost, schedule, performance, and risk. If the first three are fixed, as they were for the NASA Mars missions that failed in the l990s, then the only relief valve available to a program manager is risk. In such a case, the probability of failure increases. . Do you understand what the risk tolerance is in your business? How many of you have risk-management plans that specifically address your area of responsibility? In program management, you need a risk-management plan that considers the probability, consequences, and difficulty of managing each of the risks you have identified. You should monitor progress in retiring risk as the program progresses. . Experience in the space business shows that if quality and schedule are managed well, good cost performance results. If you manage only to cost, expe- rience shows numerous examples of program execution failures. . Trade-offs on schedule, cost, and technical risk must be made at a high level in the management chain. In my business, the failure of a two-cent part can cause the loss of a billion-dollar mission. You don't want lower management levels controlling cost and schedule by increasing risk. . Remember that, in spite of our best efforts, humans will make mistakes. We design our systems to be robust and fault-tolerant and attempt to eliminate single-point failures. We should also make sure that processes are human-error tolerant. Develop a motto of "no surprises" by staying on top of details through an effective review process. Stress early problem identification and the timely, aggressive application of remedial measures. Create an environment that is conducive to the reporting of problems. Sam Goldwyn, the late move mogul of MOM, said, "I don't want 'yes' men around me. I want people to tell me the truth, even if it costs them their job." We want people with moral courage, but we don't want the type of environment that shoots the messenger.

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136 FRONTIERS OF ENGINEERING 3. Put the right people in the right positions and hold them accountable for accomplishing agreed-upon goals. People are the key ingredients in any successful organization. Make sure they have the right skills, motivation, and experience, and then give them the authority and accountability to get the job done. I cannot overemphasize the importance of individual and organizational accountability. The reason for mission failures are very often that the people we relied on failed to do properly what we were relying on them to do. Make sure accountability flows down to those who are doing the work. With human beings, you generally get the behavior that you incentivize, so pay attention to the incentives you put in place. People need to be tied directly to agreed-upon goals that will lead to success; otherwise you get the wrong behavior, and that can have unintended consequences. 4. Communicate effectively. An outstanding technical perspective is worthless without effective communication whether you are communicating research results, managing a project, or trying to influence NASA management the night before a launch. I have heard papers presented at conferences where you know the person has spent years doing excellent work, but only 10 minutes preparing the presen- tation of the work. They are often surprised that others don't immediately see the value and cleverness of their accomplishment. . Also, as we learned from the video, an organization must be sure that lines of communication are in place that allow important information to get to decision makers. Effective communication doesn't just happen in the lunch room by chance. You must communicate in a way that your audience can receive the message. We live in a sound-bite world, so you must be crisp and to the point. Engineers are developing systems solutions to meet the needs of modern society. Hence, they must be able to communicate with a wide variety of stake- holders with diverse interests (e.g., economic, sociological, environmental, medi- cal, political, military, etc.~. You must know your audience and their interests and backgrounds. It's interesting to note that very few members of Congress have technical degrees. You may have heard about a congressman who asked a former NASA administrator, "Why do we need meteorological satellites when we have the Weather Channel?" Where did he think the weather pictures and data came from? . 5. Optimism is admirable but Shape is not a strategy. When faced with seemingly unmanageable challenges, hoping those chal- lenges will vanish is not a viable strategy. Always face reality, develop effective strategies and plans, and manage your way through the crisis.

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THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS YOU DIDN'T LEARN IN ENGINEERING SCHOOL 137 After the Berlin Wall came down . in 1989, Department of Defense pro- curement budgets also came down, by 70 percent over several years. Hoping that defense budgets would go back up was not a viable strategy. Defense contractors struggled to develop strategies that would enable them to continue to grow, or at least survive. At that time, the CEO of Lockheed approached the CEO of Martin Marietta. Not surprisingly, both had already considered a poten- tial merger as part of their internal strategic planning processes. They recog- nized an opportunity to expand their business bases, eliminate excess capacity, and increase shareholder value. Of the many major defense contractors at the beginning of the 1990s, only a handful managed to survive and prosper. Timing is everything. I joined the defense industry five months before the Berlin Wall came down and ended up going through four major mergers and acquisitions. I learned a great deal from leading transition teams and participat- ing in the development of today's Lockheed Martin Corporation. . The bottom line is that you must think creatively, be ready for changes, and work harder than the other guy. I'm reminded of something James Lofton, the great NFL receiver, said when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. First let me tell you that he has a dry sense of humor. When he was asked to reveal the "secrets" of his success, here's how he answered. "One trick is to work harder than the other guy. The second trick, always hustle. Third trick, study and know what you're doing. Fourth trick, always be prepared. Fifth, never give up. Those are my tricks." . University. Incidentally, Lofton has a degree in industrial engineering from Stanford 6. Be accountable for delivering continuously increasing value to your customers. Customers are those whom you are in business to serve, however you earn your living. I once mentioned to a friend of mine, Ed Crawley, who was head of the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department at MIT, that I had eaten dinner earlier in the week with his "boss," the MIT president. Ed told me I didn't understand. He was a tenured MIT professor, he said, and so didn't have a boss. Ed may not have a boss, but I know that Ed knows who his customers are (his students and research-funding sources), and he works very hard to bring value to them. Identify your customers' needs, and assume accountability for meeting those needs. Provide your customer with single-point accountability whenever possible. . It- you want to test the value of a person or organization, ask what they are accountable for. If they cannot state the answer crisply, if there is confusion, the next obvious question is, "if you aren't clear about what you are accountable for, then what value do you add?" This was on my mind constantly during the massive downsizing in the aerospace business during the 1990s when we really

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138 FRONTIERS OF ENGINEERING had to focus on the value-to-cost ratio in determining which organizations and people to retain. Personally, I've always tried to identify my customers. Earlier in my career when I was doing "useful" (i.e., nonmanagement) work I developed computational fluid dynamic algorithms and codes for use in airplane design. My primary customers were aircraft designers who were using wind tunnels and linear analyses but needed a more cost-effective way to get better designs. My other "customers" were the people at NASA headquarters who sponsored my research. Incidentally, years later when I was briefed into the program I found out that the tools we developed were used extensively in the design of the B-2 Stealth Bomber. You can also see what we did on a program called "HiMAT" in an interview on display at an exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. 7. Make decisions based on "integrity to the business." High standards of personal integrity and ethical behavior are fundamen- tal. If you ever get caught in a lie, you are finished because it breaks the bonds of trust. I won't do business with you again if you lie to me. But I am talking about something different here. Follow "principles-based decision-making" in business. Decisions should be made based on the value structure of the organi- zation. As a leader, you must define your organization's value structure and get consensus around those values. Take, for example, the Tylenol tampering incident. In 1982, bottles of Tylenol that had been tampered with appeared on store shelves. Cyanide in- jected into the pills led to seven deaths. The CEO of Johnson & Johnson was faced with a dilemma. You would imagine that in such a situation your attorneys would advise you not to recall all of the product because the shareholders would sue because of the impact on shareholder value. . Your marketing director would probably advise you to recall all of the product or risk permanent damage to the brand image. The resolution was based on J & J's core values they are in the business of healing. The CEO decided to recall the product, taking full responsibility, and thereby regaining public trust in the company and product. Any other ap- proach would have violated the integrity of the business. 8. Set a tone of speed and agility. Time equals money. For a commercial business, the price point and time to market are key factors. Everything you do takes time away from other things you could be doing. So place a high value on your time, parallel process when

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THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS YOU DIDN'T LEARN IN ENGINEERING SCHOOL 139 you can to make the most effective use of your time, and don't let problems fester. Take decisive action to fix things promptly. Your example will set the tone for the rest of the organization. 9. Volunteer to take on tough and important assignments that address your organization's top problems. . When you are a manager fully accountable for meeting aggressive objec- tives, whom are you going to select for key positions in your organization? Most likely, you will select people who have demonstrated they can deliver by taking on important and challenging problems and succeeding. That is often how people in senior management got there. . Problem selection is one of the most important qualities of a successful researcher. Each project should serve the stakeholder's needs and should be visible. Ask yourself what the benefits will be if you are 100 percent successful in solving a problem. Can the problem be solved in a reasonable amount of time? Is it time to move to new areas where you can add greater value? Professional societies provide a low-risk environment for developing and demonstrating leadership skills and potential. They also help you develop a network of contacts with peers and senior people outside your organization. Learn from observing successful leaders in business, government, and academia. 10. Expand your knowledge and become learning-agile. The more experience you have and the more you are able to learn quickly, the more effective you can be in solving tough problems. And your knowledge base must extend beyond engineering, because developing appropriate system solutions to society' s problems often requires cross-disciplinary technical knowl- edge, business expertise, and political and social awareness. The higher you go, the broader the knowledge base required. Knowledge you gain today may not be relevant to your current job, but it can prepare you for more senior positions in the future. . Consider lifelong learning as a professional obligation. Summary of Lessons Learned So there you have it, 35 years of experience delivered to you in slightly more than 35 minutes. I hope you will think about these lessons and incorporate them into your working environment. Also, I encourage you to develop your own lessons as you progress through your careers. I conclude with a video that demonstrates how your engineering talents and enthusiasm for your job can benefit both you personally and society as a whole.

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140 FRONTIERS OF ENGINEERING Summary of "School 2" Video Demonstrative little Bobby proudly tells his class that someday he wants to be an engineer. When asked why by his teacher, Bobby excitedly paints a picture of the futuristic and humanistic high-tech world he will help create with "power plants, robots that can think, and leaning trains" that usher people here and there quickly and efficiently. Grabbing the class's imagination with his growing enthusiasm, Bobby reveals that he will create "advanced technologies that will reduce pollution and save the world!" The class erupts in cheers. . When I first saw this video it struck me as capturing why many of us became engineers. Personally, I'm excited about going to work every day just like this young man. The video is actually a commercial by the ABB Group of Companies, but I think you'll agree it makes a very positive statement to the general public about the excitement of engineering and the contributions we make to society. Engineering has brought outstanding benefits to our society in the last century (as illustrated in the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) publica- tion, The Greatest Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century). In your discussions tomorrow, I'd like you to ask yourself two questions. What can we do to improve the public's perception of engineering? What can we do to enhance the technical literacy of the general population?