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Get ready for launch: Processes, policies and procedures

4 June 2020

I spent most of last week getting over excited about the NASA-SpaceX launch that was scheduled for Wednesday evening UK time.

But with 16 minutes and 53 seconds to go, the mission managers were forced to scrub their plans due to “the strength of electric fields in the atmosphere”.

The United States’ long-anticipated return to human spaceflight was postponed due to bad weather.

Whilst the watching world was disappointed, the crew - both strapped in aboard “Crew Dragon” and those in NASA and SpaceX Mission Controls - appeared somewhat less downbeat. Almost nonchalant.

Why?

Because everything had been planned, documented and simulated.

When it came to making the critical “Go/No Go” call, launch director Mike Taylor knew exactly what needed to be done. Emotions didn't come into play. He didn't crack under pressure. He knew he had the fate of two highly-skilled astronauts in his hands.

What has this got to do with the way we do small business though?

We can learn a lot from the way NASA and SpaceX use carefully prepared processes, policies and procedures.

At first, they can seem like they take a lot of time and may never really be useful. After all, what are the chances? And you’ll always be around to take care of that particular task - right? In fact, it’s quicker for you to do it yourself, than to explain it - let alone write it down, take those screenshots, film that video…

However, if you want to remain cool, calm and collected on the day of your big launch - rocket, brand or product - then you should take that time.

💫  Processes mean repeatability 

Since 2010, rockets from the SpaceX Falcon 9 family have actually been launched 87 times. Bad weather today? No problem, just launch on Saturday instead. They are simply following a process, even if the eyes of the world are on them this time.

💫  Policies empower teams 

Policies don’t have to constrain freedom of thought or limit accountability; they can set clear boundaries and provide reassurance that everyone is “on the same page”. We can all make big decisions, just like Mike, when we're clear on what is important and what we stand for.

💫  Procedures are delegable

It takes 19 hours from launch to reach the International Space Station and just 4 hours on the return leg. The journeys are covered by four separate crews back in Mission Control. Each team needs to be able to be the experts for their leg (ingress and ascent, free flight, approach and departure to ISS, return) AND also be able to react to any emergencies and course corrections that might occur on their watch. They do the latter with clear procedures that are communicated with all teams - on the ground and in orbit.


If you want advice on your next mission then get in touch. I can help with processes, policies and procedures. They aren’t rocket science once you have my know-how.