A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer

Segment Forty—A Quick Look Back Across 13-Billion Years

If you haven’t had the opportunity, you should take the time to go to the webbtelescope.org website to check out the visuals taken by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). They’re astounding.  And the telescope’s success is a lesson in powerful and effective risk management. While the JWST was still in development, I was honored to get an invite from the Goddard Space Flight Center to speak about risk at one of their regular in-house one-hour training events.   My remuneration for speaking was a personal tour around Goddard, accompanied by my space-loving wife, Nancy. We got to see the telescope under construction and got to chat with some of the amazing specialists making it happen. And we got to talk about risk.

What made that whole experience timely and relatable is that it opened the door for a conversation about how the normal, pedestrian and pedantic challenges are often the ones that come back to bite us—big-time.

Every day it’s in operation, the JWST faces failure points. Dozens of them. If a single failure point comes to fruition, it’s over. The billions of dollars invested to-date become sunk costs, and the project is history. Every day it’s in operation, the JWST brings triumphs. New images of our distant past, and new discoveries about the universe in which we live. So far, the JWST has looked back as far as 13-billion years.

Now, look back across your personal distances.  A year. Five years. Ten? What have you accomplished? What have you seen?

NASA believes it’s important to look back at our galactic history and origins. We should at least accommodate ourselves by looking back at our personal histories and origins.

What fun.  I sometimes catch myself looking back at the challenges and vagaries of life, but I really want to take a page from NASA.  I want to be held spellbound by the amazing things that have transpired.  An article today talked about the discovery of a 10+-billion-year-old star that burns brighter than a thousand suns.  Astronomers were marveling at the implications.  It’s so vast, it’s hard to comprehend.  Take a moment (and feel free to post) a couple of marvels of your life. 

  • Children are born
  • Ceremonies and rituals are carried on from generation to generation
  • People recognize your gifts and find new ways to leverage them

And for each of us, the list could go on.

Lesson Learned: One of my wife’s many cousins, John Appel, is in charge of the Appel family reunion.  He currently has over 100 attendees who plan to join the fun. It’s a passion for him. Talk about the family members (who are spread all over the region and the country), and he lights up.  Similarly, my wife’s grandfather archived their ancestry back to early Maryland, in the days of Lord Calvert. He would regale anyone who would listen with tales of hard-working miners and educators galore. For both John and Nan’s grandfather, the look back reveals something about themselves, their history, and the challenges that have been overcome.  NASA shares the same lessons with JWST. There’s a certain nobility in building the long-term view and finding a way to share it with others meaningfully.

Sometimes, we do this when we conduct a gratitude exercise or list our blessings.

Sometimes, we can do this with team members by simply asking (opposite to the Agile question), What’s going right for you today?

Lesson Learned: If we’re going to take a serious look back at our projects, our families and our lives, we cannot go it alone. To sit idly and ponder one’s own history solo can actually be a bit maudlin. But I got to spend a significant chunk of yesterday with my one and only sister. Every now and then, we’d make a passing reference to an almost-forgotten friend or an event that few others would even remember. But because of a lifetime as brother and sister, the commonality made conversation flow.  Interest was high. And generally, it was pretty darned fun. The billion-year (or multi-decade) look back provides both perspective and common understanding. It’s validating. Any time we’re bringing someone new into the fold—in our lives or in our projects—it’s a great time to look back across space and time. They need that briefing and that sense of the common story.

Take time for the look back.  NASA was willing to spend 10-billion dollars to look back.  We should be willing to spend at least ten minutes.

Up next?  Solos, Duets and Full Ensembles.  Getting Rid of Some of the Pressure.

If you want to review the previous elements of this e-book or blog, they’re all posted at www.carlpritchard.com/blog

If you have insights you’d like to share or comments or conversations, my e-mail is the best way to reach me at carl@carlpritchard.com.  I’ll always get back to you within 24 hours.  Always.  And if you think I missed the mark?  Check your spam folder.  Thanks for joining me on this journey.