Applying the lessons of an historic engineering failure to the modern electronics product development.
The competition is surging ahead. A few past public product failures are casting doubts on the ability of the company. The Boss feels under pressure to show the competition up, and he is pressing his product development team to deliver something that will blow the completion away.
A new product is planned that will show the world how powerful and important The Boss and his company are. The company had built a similar product which worked great, but this new design has an important new feature and there are no analytical models to predict the performance. The designer is the best in the business, but he is nervous about the design. It goes beyond his experience, and there is no time to slowly move up the learning curve. The Boss wants it his way.
The original designer leaves the project part way through. Management keeps changing the spec, to add more features that will “impress the world." The product is built, but when it is secretly tested, the test manager has to suspend the test or the handcrafted first article would have catastrophically failed. The Boss with the very strong personality is out of town and can’t be reached, and no one is brave enough to tell him of the failure. They hope it was a fluke.
Production moves ahead and the product is released to great fanfare. A huge party is held to celebrate the launch of this new product, the company’s flagship creation, the state of the art, what will surely show the world how great their leadership is.
And what a magnificent disaster it is. In less than an hour of operation, the product destroys itself; lives are lost, all under the eyes of friends, families and competitors. The response of The Boss, who is still out of town: “Imprudence and negligence must have been the cause, and the guilty parties must be punished.”
Does this story sound familiar? Is it about the latest PC operating system? Is it about the last product your company wanted to ship, but you kept failing FCC certification and missed the market window? Is it about the first high speed serial link product your company tried to bring to market, without enough signal integrity experience to avoid the common landmines?
This is the story of the Vasa, a sailing ship launched on Aug. 10, 1628. The Boss was King Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden. At the time of construction and testing, the King was leading his invading army into Poland, counting on his new battleship to help win the war.
Figure 1. A scale model of the Vasa with the original painted wooden sculptures, designed to show the world the might and power of the King of Sweden, in display at the Vasa Museum, Stockholm, Sweden.