Tag

Lean

Agile Encore – Workshop and Talk – Nov 14th 2013

By | Agile, Disruption, Education, Lean | No Comments

I talked about one of our favourite clients BAUM Cycles at Agile Australia 2013 in the middle of the year – It must have been popular because I’ve been invited back for the Agile Encore in Melbourne on the 14th.  I’m also running a workshop in the morning before the afternoon session – Here’s an insight into what you’ll get !

Afternoon Talk – Agile, Lean, Broken Ribs and a World Champion

Taiichi Ohno was reputed to take new graduates at Toyota to the factory floor and draw a circle on the ground. The graduate would then be told to stand there and observe; if upon his return they had not seen enough then he would tell them to observe for longer. While it might feel like something out of a Karate Kid movie Taiichi Ohno was really teaching a simple lesson. The only way to really understand a problem is to go to where it happens and see it.

Admiral Rickover (father of the nuclear submarine) understood this only too well and long before the Toyota Production Systems day he would force ships’ captains into boiler suits to crawl the bilge of their ships with him looking for problems on ships in for repair and refitting.

“What it takes to do a job will not be learned from management courses. It is principally a matter of experience, the proper attitude, and common sense – none of which can be taught in a classroom… Human experience shows that people, not organisations or management systems, get things done.” – Rickover

Genchi Genbutsu – Go and See.

How then do we do this when more than 90% of us are creating virtual things – intellectual property, software, design or products – not something you can drop on your foot?

One of Luna Tractor’s most interesting projects over the last year has been working with BAUM Cycles. Their bikes are widely regarded as the Ferraris of the bike world, ridden by world champions who pay their own money and line up like everyone else. In a small, sometimes hot, often cold and dirty factory on the North Shore of Geelong, they have been steadily shifting the operation of the entire business to an Agile and Lean process.

With a blue collar workforce, most factory language unprintable and the background noise a constant mixture of Triple M and machinery; some different approaches are required.  Hear real world lessons about Lean flow, physical stock management; Agile sales and customer service along with who ended up with the broken ribs.  Get a sneak peak into the new factory design that we are currently building also.

You can sign up and see the rest of the program here – www.agileencore.com/index.html

Morning Workshop

In addition I’m running a workshop in the morning covering a wide ranging background of  Agile, Lean and Systems Think as it can be applied across a whole organisation.  This session will be great for beginners and experience agilistas alike with a focus on the background, and philosophy of Agile, Lean and Systems Thinking as well as interactive discussions about how to practically start using these approaches right across your organisations – not just in IT.

Full Details and workshop sign up here – www.agileencore.com/workshops.html

PS: Use the code ENCORE-JAMES to save $100 on the workshop.

Luna USA Field Trip: lessons for the future of retail in Australia

By | Customers, Disruption, Lean, People, Retail, Strategy | No Comments

If I had a dollar for every whinging column-inch where our Australian newspapers copy and paste press releases from Myer, David Jones and Harvey Norman’s PR departments, blaming the dreaded interweb for the end-of-days in our retail stores, I’d be wealthy enough to buy my Levis from DJs all the time. Which is another story, but to be fair, a related one.

As data from Marketing Magazine recently reported, and as I have duly illustrated above, online sales (the pirate) amounted to a mere 4.9% of total retail revenue in Australia. You’d think it was 49% the way the captains of industry are moaning! You would have to take the 15 top-ranked etailers (look away venture capitalists) to beat Myer’s sales in 2011.

Three quarters of those etailers are Australian based (like recent Melbourne niche startup Oola Toys, catering for quality kid’s toys online), belying the hysteria that the foreign pirate devils are plundering our shores.

Like pirates, etailers are moving fast and nimbly, growing 29% per year, but it’s a perilously small base, and although the power of compound growth of that kind is well-noted by economists, the pirate’s flag was visible from a great distance.

In the long run, can ye olde worlde Australian retail survive this onslaught from the internet? Will websites that enable people to self-serve, in their own good time (websites rarely snear “you’s been fixed?” while texting their mates on their iPhone), with near perfect information on price and quality, put bricks and mortar to the sword?

What’s particularly disturbing as Luna Tractorites, is that while we wait for the millionaire boys club to figure it out, the Australian retail experience just seems to get worse, accelerating our move online. As management consultants advise the command and control CEO-classes that the only sure-fire road to profit is cost reductions, they cut wages, staff numbers, staff benefits, premises and service.

I just don’t buy all their complaints about retail rents and wages. As this report on the state of Australian retail by The Australia Institute shows (yes, I know, they have an axe to grind and I should declare, distantly linked to my new employers), there is plenty of misinformation being spread at present to discombobulate us all.

Australian CEOs should know by now that by their very nature, big consulting firms will only recommend a cost-cutting program, since a well-known result of an ideas or innovation-based strategy is that some of the ideas won’t work. Cost cutting always gets a result for a CEO, and since they’re only going to be in the job 2 years, the next guy can handle the fallout.

The less than 5% of Australian retail sales that ecommerce plunders appears to have undone the psyche of the highly paid leaders of our big retailers. Their inability to grasp pure online is only surpassed by their choking over their morning tea and tim-tams trying to figure out how to make online and bricks & mortar stores work together. Which the rest of the world has had a better go at I might add – according to the Marketing article, 13 of the top 15 etailers have a bricks and mortar presence of some kind.

The web is growing fast too, off that tiny 4.9% base, and it appears nobody near the top of big retail has a single good idea to play. Remind me again why we pay them so much?

To add final insult to big retail’s EBIT injuries, the Australian ecommerce industry is still sexy, bright and cool 12 years later – and still attracting talent and investment. And more often than not, attacking using small teams moving fast and agile.

Luna Tractor sent me to the USA in May 2012, the land of BIG retail, and I am pleased to report that whilst on assignment, I have seen the future.

Knowing a fair few camera nerds (James, Gus, Jamie, Steve I am looking at you all), they often recommend a website called B&H Cameras, based in the USA, as trustworthy, value for money and easy to deal with. The 3 horsemen of the retail apocalypse.

And thus, being in Manhattan for a few days, I felt duty bound to check them out.

The approach, from Penn Station through roadworks and fairly drab streets did not auger well. The only retailers in this area were basic, small and a bit sad looking.

Eventually I spotted a nondescript B&H sign, and a couple of traditonally dressed and coiffed Jewish guys sitting outside the door to a loading dock, looking exhausted from their morning’s work, and seemingly pleased to be in the open air. Hmmm. Entrance round the corner. Okayyyy.

Round the corner, in the front doors and BAM! Like a cross between Penn Station and Willy Wonka’s factory, there are people everywhere, and the zziiippp, zzziiiippp sound of machines, rollers and gears. I look up to see green boxes flying around gantries above our heads at high speed, like a Terry Gilliam film.

Photo from wikipedia

With electronics gear everywhere. It’s about the size of a decent JB HiFi store in Australia. On each level!

It is immediately explained to me I should check my hand-luggage in at the concierge, and then I’m free to head into the store.

Nondescript on the outside, treasure trove on the inside. Hundreds of customers, and dozens more of those mysterious traditionally-dressed Hasidic Jewish men. They are everywhere, chatting to each other, chatting to customers, laughing, looking serious,

Level 1 of B&H

debating, calling out to one another. I quickly get the picture they own and run the business.

My genuine requirement (and yes, there is one my dear family) is a couple of packs of Polaroid’s new zero ink ‘Zink’ printer paper, for the gorgeous little GL-10 portable printer we use. It is portable, battery powered, and most importantly, emulates the look of a genuine old Polaroid camera print. Essential cool.

Having bought the printer at Michaels in Melbourne, I figured I would acquire more paper on the road in the USA easily enough. I figured 100% wrong, as I found in San Francisco, Minneapolis and Boston. “Polaroid?” they all said. “What’s that?” or “they went out of business”.  Even the specialist camera stores blanked. At worst I got the surly ‘haveaniceday’ which translates to ‘whydidIwastetimeonyouloser’.

I wandered upstairs at B&H, seeing the family safely despatched to check out the world’s largest 3D televisions, and am once again taken aback by the sight. Not dozens of Jewish men, but hundreds.

Product is divided by brand, and by categeory. A whole shop-sized stand of Canon cameras, of Nikons, Leica, and Olympus. Printers arranged accordingly. Historical displays. Apple computers, Sony, you name a brand, it’s there. I am drawn to the Polaroid and instant camera stand, and to my utter disappointment see their old Pogo printer and a paper rack saying ‘out of stock, new product coming soon’. Images of the Lady Gaga designed GL-10 printer as a paper weight flash into my brain.

“Sir, you look like you saw ghosts” says a man at my elbow. I explain my problem, what I want, and he steers me by the elbow – “it’s not my area, but come over to where the printers are, we’ll see what we can do”. I am introduced to the 3 printer guys, who have the tiny range of Polaroids (there are only 2 printers, and a couple of cameras) on their shelves.

Then my server shocks me – he opens the freaking company website on a computer on the stand! I quickly jump to the conclusion that the game is over, and I’m about to be sent home to order it on the web.

To have a retailer even admit they have a website is rare enough, but using the site within the store to actually assist a customer even rarer. There’s no commission on that sale surely! Having got a visual check on what I want through the use of a quick search, the guy CTRL-C’s the product SKU, alt-tabs to another boring old mainframe looking screen, pastes it in, and whammo, we have an order.

“Were you thinking of anything else on today’s visit?” he asks. As it happens, I have ummed and ahhed over a simple 50mm f1.4 lens for shooting indoors for a while. “Do I have to go somewhere else for lenses?” I ask. “No, no, if you know what you want we’ll find it” comes the confident reply. One website search, visual confirmation, cut and paste of the SKU, and I am done.

The B&H service counters where you inspect the goods brought up from the warehouse. Spot any queues here?

I now expect my guy to take me to a till and ring it up. Silly me. Nor does he point and tell me to wait in the queue over there. He TAKES me to a free service person at the biggest customer service counter I have ever seen (I counted about 70 stations), and introduces me to the next guy in the chain. Then he waves goodbye and goes back to the printer display.

I have a small ticker-tape printout in my hand of the items, with a bar code. I am greeted, the serving guy simply scans the code and suggests I try one of their delicious candies, as the goods will be a couple of minutes. Ummm, so where are they then?

In under 2 minutes, 2 green boxes with my lens and paper arrive on the invisible railway underneath this gigantic service desk. I get my credit card out, ready to pay. “Oh no Sir” he waves my card away, “we’re just going to let you check the items are what you wanted – you will pay downstairs at the next step…”

Now really intrigued, I decide to race the items downstairs. My effort to beat them will doubtless be foiled by a queue at the payment counter though. Except there isn’t one. In fact, I have not seen a queue anywhere in the entire store. Payments is only the second place I have seen any women in the store at all (the first was bag check). Six checkouts for credit cards, 4 for cash and cheques.

Having paid, I am ushered over to the collection counter, where my items, with warranty cards filled out, my receipt stapled to them, have been delivered by the magic railway and are in a bag ready to collect.

Boggling.

So what has happened here? Well, given that these guys have been in business for decades, I have just learned where Steve Jobs got his Apple Store commerce and Genius Bar service processes from.

B&H are basically masters of FLOW, and ensuring that value is accruing the whole time for the customer.

B&H have counter-intuitively divided up the value stream into discrete parts that are delivered rapidly by discrete people. In a time where everyone else is cutting staff numbers, training and service levels, they are dialing those factors to 11.

They have worked out the bottlenecks in their store flow, and simply calculated the required ratio of servers, inspection staff, cashiers, help desk and collection staff based on the pull of customer demand.

They also have a booming website business, shipping huge quantities of product across America and the world, with integrated logistics partners like Fedex. To comply with traditional Jewish law, they are shut on Saturday, and do not even process internet orders placed on a Saturday. The system just queues them up for Sunday.

Now, I’m not saying they are perfect. According to Wikipedia they are defending a 2009 lawsuit focused on the lack of progress opportunities for women in the store. I can see how that arose!

But between innovators like Zara (right next door to our David Jones in Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall, and as busy as DJ’s is quiet), Michaels and B&H, there’s hope that a retail shopping experience in Australia can still be a pleasant, and profitable one.

Just don’t expect any consultants to recommend that strategy any time soon.

Great Engineering Lasts – The U-2 Spy Plane and the SR 71 Blackbird.

By | Agile, Development, Lean, Space, Technology | 4 Comments

We spoke at YOW this year on the topic of innovation and agile over 6 decades, highlighting the Agile and Lean principles we see in space and engineering projects. From the 1930s we talked about the Cabinet War rooms and that deserves a whole post of its own as we continue to expand our understanding of how physical spaces enable and impact the people and results.  From the 1940s we talked about Lockheed Martin and their Skunkworks which we’ve written about before.  From the 1950s we looked at some of the magnificent engineering created by that same Skunkworks team… The Agile movement may only be 10 years old, but the principles and the evidence that it works goes back way further than that.  We’ll write more reflections on YOW itself at some point, but today you get one of the lessons that most appeals to us.

The U-2 Spy Plane

When the U-2 first flew in 1955, it was an accident.  A high speed taxi test saw it rolling down the runway at 70 knots at which point its sailplane wing generated enough lift and it took off into the air unexpectedly.  At the other extreme, its cruising altitude of 70,000 feet is referred to by pilots as coffin corner; at this height its stall speed is a mere 10 knots slower than its maximum speed.

The balance is so critical on the U-2 that the cameras had to use a split film setup with reels on one side feeding forward while those on the other side feed backward, thus maintaining a balanced weight distribution through the whole flight.

The plane is incredibly difficult to land because of the lift cushion under the wing as it comes close to the ground.  It lands on two inline ‘bicycle wheels’ and the wing tips also land and skid on the ground on titanium plates.

Perhaps the most amazing U-2 fact, and the reason we consider it such a testament to great engineering, is that it’s still in active service today.

The SR-71 Blackbird

This is the fastest and highest flying air-breathing aircraft ever made (only rockets can go higher or faster).  It has a maximum speed unspecified above Mach 3.5 (3.5 times the speed of sound) and a maximum altitude also unspecified but in excess of 85,000 feet.  At Mach 3.5 you’re covering 1km per second and the engines are sucking in 3 million litres of air every second – an average human breaths in that much air in a year.

The construction of the plane is pretty special too, with 90% of it being made from titanium.  At Mach 3+ the surface of the plane heats up to 500+ degrees.  The wet patches you can see on the wings and central spine in this photograph are caused by the fuel leaking out of the expansion joint ‘gills’ in the plane.  Until about Mach 2.5 when the plane heats up and expands, the SR-71 leaks fuel constantly.

While the Concord can do the transatlantic London to New York flight in about three and half hours, the SR-71 is the way to go if you’re in a hurry.  It holds the record at just 1 hour 54 min.

My favourite SR-71 story comes from a pilot in the book Sled Driver: “One day, high above Arizona , we were monitoring the radio traffic of all the mortal airplanes below us. First, a Cessna pilot asked the air traffic controllers to check his ground speed. ‘Ninety knots,’ ATC replied. A twin Bonanza soon made the same request. ‘One-twenty on the ground,’ was the reply. To our surprise, a navy F-18 came over the radio with a ground speed check. I knew exactly what he was doing. Of course, he had a ground speed indicator in his cockpit, but he wanted to let all the bug-smashers in the valley know what real speed was ‘Dusty 52, we show you at 620 on the ground,’ ATC responded. The situation was too ripe. I heard the click of Walter’s mike button in the rear seat. In his most innocent voice, Walter startled the controller by asking for a ground speed check from 81,000 feet, clearly above controlled airspace. In a cool, professional voice, the controller replied, ‘ Aspen 20, I show you at 1,982 knots on the ground.’ We did not hear another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast.”

This article from Gizmodo about flying the SR-71 is required reading.

In a world of throw-away appliances and software it’s a salient reminder that great work, great engineering lasts a long time.  The Skunkworks team was isolated and protected from the rest of the organisation; this one team designed over 30 planes including the U2, A-12, SR-71, F-117, F-22 – just to name a few iconic aircraft.

A new orbit – thoughts on leaving Lonely Planet

By | People

Last Friday my work at Lonely Planet was completed. The new website team, led by half a dozen energetic founders from Melbourne, re-started in London after an intense 100 day transition program that was judged a great success.

The opportunity to take to the wider business community the radically lean, agile and kanban ways of working that have been developed in my time at Lonely Planet has begun – here’s my parting thoughts from the big day.

When I joined Lonely Planet in April 2007, the world was somewhat different.

  • YouTube was only 18 months old, and we all wondered how the world’s largest collection of dog and cat videos would ever survive given it had no way of actually making money.
  • Facebook had about 40m users, and we all kindof assumed it was destined to be a pale imitation of the dominant MySpace with 120m users.
  • Rolling up American trailer trash mortgages into great big bundles of fiscal shit, polishing those turds and selling them to Asian retirement and investment funds was a great business to be in.
  • Some guy called John Howard was the Prime Minister of Australia, and the nation’s primary policy focus was turning back small boats full of refugees.
  • There was no iPhone.
  • There was no iPad.
  • There was no Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, or other digital book platform.
  • http://www.icanhazcheeseburger.com  was yet to be registered.
  • There was no such concept as Groupon, or 4Square.
  • Rupert Murdoch didn’t own the Wall Street Journal.
  • Lonely Planet believed outsourcing, enterprise software and waterfall delivery were ‘the shit that killed’ (a favourite Lance Armstrong quote that one).
  • I couldn’t play the guitar at all, and certainly wasn’t cool enough to be in a band.
  • Popular music was dominated by the unashamed ass-waving of Fergie, Gwen Stefani, Rihanna, Keisha, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Gwen Stefani and Nelly Furtado.
  • Drugs, betting and schoolgirls were the dominant news headlines relating to the AFL; and…
  • We had no idea what would happen to Harry Potter.

It is good to know only some things change then.

Those things that did change, changed quite dramatically in that short time.

Since 2007, I have spent millions of Lonely Planet’s dollars of hard-earned income (running IT, then helping run Digital) trying to figure out our strategic response to some of the more radical challenges thrust upon us. That’s thousands of dollars an hour in the average working week. So, if like our CFO, you’re you’re all wondering what the Retro on a transformation project of that scale looks like:

What worked?

  • Being agile, not just DOING agile: most organisations only ever get to ‘doing agile’, somehow our culture, our business crisis facing the GFC and our challenges of new media have led us to BEING agile. We talk daily. We learn weekly. We adapt to change. We are transparent about the work and priorities. This capability of moving fast will serve Lonely Planet well.
  • And as I have said before – if you don’t like change, you’re going to enjoy irrelevance even less.
  • The caring: not so much in the ‘gives a shit’ sense, we know people at LP give a shit (it’s a hiring filter). Just the raw humanity of the place:
    • You eat food and drink coffee from the Mad Dog cafe made with LOVE, and you can taste it. And James, I don’t for one moment hold your pork roast crackling responsible for my open heart surgery.
    • When something bad happens, the wagons are circled and it is sorted out.
    • There is music, and humour, and art. Everywhere.
    • The individuals all know who they are. Too many to mention, or thank.
    • It is so special I shall be partaking in the social aspects that are extended to people beyond the walls of this golden cage in Footscray – the musicians especially, but also the agilists, the innovators, the emerging lean leaders, those who I have spent a lot of time with. We should all try to make our alumni more comfortable with coming back, for lunch, drinks, or a catch-up. Help them to get over the embarrassment and discomfort and get them out here.
  • The smartness. No doubt, with an agreed strategy, 20 people randomly selected from Lonely Planet could leave here, start and succeed in a new business venture in the travel space. It’s a good thing, and a sign of the glue that binds this place that they so rarely do!

What didn’t work?

  • Needing open heart surgery part way through the website relaunch. This event, potentially life-changing for me, showed Lonely Planet and BBCW’s mettle, depth of talent and support for its employees beyond the call of duty.
  • The result however, was coming back from a mid-life disaster with a focused passion on transforming the entire organisation’s capability – not just IT, but everywhere. The result is the most agile enterprise I know – from finance, legal, sales, product development to HR.

What puzzles me?

  • Those people who can still be heard murmuring to themselves about all this damned change stopping or slowing down. Well folks, Google bought Zagat this morning so the madness continues as we sit here.
  • Why don’t you read? You have the best business book library of any business I have ever worked in, and better than most bookshops I have been in. It is a treasure. But it’s dusty. As a brand new writer myself (as opposed to the shitful celebrity agile blogger I might be described as by my friend Amy Gray ;-), I can attest to the amount of thinking that you have to do to make an argument cogent enough to justify a book. Use that sweat wisely – read the result… books.

What would I do differently?

  • Go beyond our walls! My 4+ years at LP has now given me the chance to co-found a small business doing what I am deeply passionate about – teaching others that there are better, smarter ways of working, which can also result in a better quality of life. That business (based on this blog) opens on Monday 12 September, and will be blown along by the support of many of you, not the least of whom is Matt who I thank greatly for giving us the courage to follow our passion.

Top 10 agile and lean resources

By | Agile, Lean, links | One Comment

I’ve just written a friend an email with our curated list of resources to inspire teams to start working in a more modern way.

Looking at it, I think it makes a half decent blog post – so here it is!

Passion for customers: you can’t beat Seth Godin. I recommend 2 books – Meatball Sundae which will tell you why you need to think differently to amaze your customers in a digital world; and The Purple Cow for becoming remarkable (as opposed to perfect).

Passion for people: Dan Pink (motivating knowledge workers through autonomy, mastery and purpose) is the king here, though Simon Sinek (emphasising the ‘why’) is a close second. Luckily, YouTube is your friend here.

Agile product development: Steve Blank is the guru here, but being a Stanford lecturer his writing can seem a little impenetrable at times. Two of his students wrote this book which makes far more sense and gets to the point quickly: http://www.custdev.com/ also available on Amazon.

Lean startups: Eric Ries has some great ideas for people starting out, whether they are a real startup or just starting something new in an old world organisation: see some basic slides here, and his upcoming book (due September 2011).

Testing your ideas and products with real people: at Lonely Planet, applying the lessons in this book is how we started to seriously find out things about our digital products that we never knew before: http://www.amazon.com/Rocket-Surgery-Made-Easy-Yourself/dp/0321657292

There is a great online service mentioned in the back of the book that removes all barriers to you trying this approach of asking real customers what they think about your product or service, for about $35. No excuses! http://www.usertesting.com/

Lean as a new way of thinking: one great book, covering Toyota’s development of lean manufacturing (the parent of agile) is Jeff Liker’s book The Toyota Way. It gives you the basic premises of running a lean business with lots of examples.

If the nerdy tech stuff starts to fascinate you, then it’s hard to beat James Shore’s primer on agile software development. Any deeper than that then Martin Fowler’s blog is compulsory reading: http://martinfowler.com/

You’ll impress the pants off people if you can comprehend and quote from these principles: http://agilemanifesto.org/ and http://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html

Getting things done fast: no better book (or easier read) than Rework by 37 Signals. This puts a lot of the principles above into practice, and if you only read one book, this might be it.

And lastly, from a cultural and organizational change perspective, this is a toolset you should plan on using with your teams: http://www.human-synergistics.com.au/ plus they have a free conference in Melbourne later in the year that people should really try to find a way of getting to.

Working in an Agile way will change habits, and with careful planning those changes in habits can start a landslide of cultural change.

People are still the best computers

By | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Wernher Von Braun with enormous Saturn rocket engines

Apocryphal or not, this story from the science of space-flight does provide us with one of my favourite quotes, from German rocket scientist turned US space program engineer Wernher von Braun.

Wikipedia does a fine job summarising his life and work, and his contribution to the history of manned space flight through rocket design. I’m more interested in a view he held that aligns strongly with a lesson learned from Lean thinking.

As technologists we often feel compelled to automate things. The great promise of robots and computers was that they would take the drudgery out of daily tasks, leaving humans to think of higher matters. Like watching cats on the internet I suppose. But we usually automate the wrong things.

The natural temptation is to build software or machines that automate the complex, multi-variate, mind-boggling tasks to take out the variation and pain that would occur if a person did them. The resulting code or machine is naturally complex, perhaps incredibly clever, but equally unsuited to varying that solution by even a jot.

Lean teaches us to automate the simple, repetitive tasks and leave the complex, decision-heavy, multi-stranded, multi-variate tasks to a person (or people). When eventually they have innovated the task to be simple – you might automate it. Werner had a lovely take on this issue:

“Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft – and the only one that can be mass-produced using unskilled labour.”

This thought resonated with me today as we heard of the battles our smartest software developers have endured over the last 24 months writing a robot to interrogate text files and break down the content into different types. Every time the original document is improved for the product to be more customer-friendly (which is often), our robot breaks. Stimulated by the intellectual pursuit, we have coded our hearts out to solve this, often resolving that if the upstream folk could just stop changing the frickin’ format to please customers we’d be fine!

Then our own rocket scientist had a thought. What if we got people to do the job instead, giving them some simple tools to process, post-process and augment the content along the way? Ugh. Not sexy. Not ‘elegant’. But several times more efficient and producing output at the 99% quality level. Lunokhod thinking!

I close with another von Braun piece of wisdom, which perhaps comes from his rare reconciliation of both religious and scientific passions in his life:

“You must accept one of two basic premises: Either we are alone in the universe, or we are not alone in the universe. And either way, the implications are staggering”

Why Luna Tractor?

By | Moon, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

An ingenius solution driven by re-framing the question.

While the Americans were busy landing men on the moon for a few days at a time and playing a little golf the Russian space agency was taking a different approach in their race to the moon.  They built and successfully deployed the first remote-controlled robot to explore another body in space.

Landing in 1970, Lunokhod 1 significantly out lasted its original 3 month mission, sending back images for 11 months after traveling over 10km on the lunar surface.  A second mission Lunokhod 2 was sent in 1973 and covered 37km, operating for 4 months.  To this day it holds the record for the longest distance of surface travel by any extra-terrestrial vehicle.

Some perspective on the Russian achievement: the Mars Rovers have covered less than half the distance and transmitted back about the same number of images using technology some 40 years more mature.

The Apollo program racked up a final bill of $25.4b in 1973 ($170b adjusted to present day).  Each Mars rover has cost the US $400m, so in 1970 the Lunokhod program would have cost Russia perhaps $50 million in 1970 dollars? Personally I think the Apollo program is just magnificent, one of humanity’s great engineering achievements, but the little Lunokhod got rather better bang for buck.

So why Luna Tractor? The Lunokhod – or our English version, Luna Tractor – is a reminder to think laterally about problems, have some imagination and shoot for the moon by being a little bit different.

PS: It is of course still up there, recently photographed by the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.  Thanks to reader Ross for the link.

Subscribe to the Luna Newsletter

Quote of the week

The new competitive advantage is the ability to anticipate, respond and adapt to change.

Recent Luna Posts

Become Remarkable.