Root Cause Success

Way to go SpaceX!  In the midst of a historic and successful rocket launch on May 22nd, few will recall that Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) had to abort the mission just a half-second before the scheduled launch on May 19th.  In a text-book example of effectively Anticipating Problems followed by a quick Cause Analysis, SpaceX was able to get the launch back on track to join the Space Station in a very tight launch window.  You can read more about the situation in this Huffington Post article.

The aborted rocket launch is relevant for a couple of reasons.  First, it effectively illustrates the correlation between Anticipating Problems and Cause Analysis.  As illustrated on our Action Management Wheel, issues can occur anywhere on the Wheel and typically evolve in a clockwise direction and, in this case, from Anticipating Problems to Cause Analysis.  For SpaceX, their Anticipating Problems led to computers automatically aborting the attempted launch because one of the nine engines didn’t fire correctly.  Once the launch was aborted SpaceX engineers quickly isolated the root cause of the problem, fixed it and were back on track for the launch in a tight time window.

The second reason the aborted rocket launch deserves mention is because no one ever seems to remember or acknowledge a potential problem that is averted.  The accolades are usually given to those that get us out of a crisis rather than those that are responsible for avoiding the crisis all together.  Not to mention those that quickly troubleshoot a problem and get the project, or launch, back on track.  To them we say “way to go!”

Take a look at the areas around you.  Who gets the attention and rewards?  Those that have smooth running operations and rarely have unresolved problems or those that are exhibiting heroic efforts as they put out one fire after another?  In most organizations, it is the latter group that gets the accolades.  Take a deeper look.  Could the problems have been anticipated and averted completely?  Are problems being patched only to recur at a later date or are the real causes of the problems being identified and corrected?

Many have already praised SpaceX for their historic launch on May 22nd.  We say congratulations to SpaceX for the rarely acknowledged successes of May 19th. 

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