This year has seen the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 lunar mission which, famously, experienced an on-board explosion depriving the spacecraft of most of its oxygen supply and electric power. The tireless teamwork and decisive decision-making which brought the three astronauts safely back to Earth is now legendary.
The first key decision made by NASA's flight controllers was to abort the Moon landing, and to use the lunar module to use it as a ‘lifeboat’.
With this renewed objective, the module was purposefully stripped of all non-essential items, ensuring that there were no unintended consequences elsewhere whilst doing so.
The conditions in the spacecraft were simulated by engineers at mission control to come up with and test ideas on how to prolong the oxygen and electric supply. Many solutions were proposed – and almost as many discarded as unsuitable.
Risks were quickly assessed taking into account the fragile state of the spacecraft and the growing fatigue of the crew. Bold decisions were made promptly and executed accurately.
For example, with the levels of carbon dioxide rising in the spacecraft the mission control team came up with a way of making the command module’s square carbon dioxide filters work in the lunar module’s round filter holders. It didn’t look pretty, but as the crew were slowly being suffocated success was all about progress over perfection in a time critical scenario.
Each of these hastily improvised solutions worked, ensuring there was enough for crew to survive without depleting the oxygen and electricity supplies they needed to complete the return journey.
It was a remarkable feat of collaboration between the diverse talents of the mission control team to come up with ideas under huge pressure and to quickly assess the merit of these ideas by simulating for their feasibility. Collaboration which meant that, against all the odds, the three crew eventually splashed down safely in the South Pacific Ocean.
In the face of current pandemic, you may need to apply Apollo 13 thinking to your business, to stop certain activities, and to strip away what is not needed.
Steps for “Project Stop”:
- Be clear of the revised business vision and communicate the new reality, reasons why, and intentions to your people.
- Ensure leadership is totally behind these plans and actively sponsoring the new business vision
- Show what you will do with the outcome
- Ensure authentic engagement with your people to help you identify the activities that can be stripped away without significant unintended consequences
If “Project Stop” is not managed properly it can be a highly emotive, fearful, and an emotional time for the people involved – resistance could be strong. However, create the right energy, by actively removing the fear factor, your people will quickly identify tasks that are of low value, which then allows you to focus on your vision.
Normally, during this process, significant time savings will be identified.
For example, in a European head office of 400 staff in a pharmaceutical company, a high-level analysis yielded circa 3,400+ days of savings: equivalent of 15 full-time employees.
Of these “stops”, 50% related to day-to-day activities which yielded minimal value; 30% related to projects/initiatives that did not align with business strategy, and 20% related to meetings that did not enhance governance and/or aid better decision making.
As a result, the business was able to redirect and reinvest 15 employees’ worth of time into more value-adding activities and to sharpen its focus on its revised vision.
That’s like hiring a whole new team of people at no extra cost – a great start in helping you find success in a post-pandemic world.