Astronaut Standing on the Moon, nasa-U2uKrI4lci8-unsplash

 

It’s easy to dismiss some of the greatest projects of the past as anomalies; activities that were driven by an exceptional circumstance. Thus the US Apollo Space program was driven in large part by the highly politicized climate associated with the height of the US Soviet Cold War. Equally, you may be tempted to overlook them as dated and mythologized stories of great endeavour.

However, to do so would be a mistake. The Major Projects Association Seminar on 26th February is focusing on what any project organization can learn from other sectors and I’d argue, other times in history. One of the speakers is Roger Forsgren from NASA so we should expect some great lessons from the US Space program.

I came across ‘Project Apollo: A Retrospective Analysis’ on the NASA website which offers and detailed and unflinching retelling of the Apollo programme and its legacy. I encourage you to read it, share it with your colleagues and use it as a catalyst to reflect on and discuss your own project or programmes. I’d be amazed if you didn’t generate some previously unconsidered insights.

What struck me when reading the piece is how little project and programmes have changed in the 50 years since Apollo. The fact that the US Space Program understood and used a systems thinking approach means that they were just as alive to the challenges of complexity and uncertainty as we are today.

In many ways, what has changed is that we appear to have lost sight of the big picture. Our focus seems to be on the detail of infrastructure, public service reform or digital transformation. The bigger projects are out there: human-driven climate change; global inequality; access to sustainable sources of food or water.

At the start of a new decade wouldn’t it be great to see nations turning their heart, their focus, their technology and the imagination wholeheartedly to these great projects and, given everything we can deliver with great projects, might these not unite the nations of the world and achieve the same kind of breath-taking results that the Americans achieved in the 1960s with their rush to the Moon?