“What Hit Me?”

Sometimes as a Project Manager, despite your best efforts, something comes out of left field to spoil your day. If you’ve any sense, you brush yourself down; turn it into a positive learning experience, then despite the ‘blame-free’ world we live in, start refreshing your CV and looking for new employment.

As you sit sobbing into your beer, it’s often tempting to reflect on “Could I have seen this collision coming?” The chances are that in similar circumstances, 99 times out of a 100, the answer’s still “No”. But don’t worry it’s not your fault. (A good PM self-preservation strategy).

From my time in the flying game, collisions are very difficult to spot. The reason being that is that if something is going to hit you, visually it remains stationary to you, so always appears in the same spot in the windscreen. The eye is much better at picking up things that are moving, especially your periferal vision, so your brain does not necessarily register the thing that is going to cause you most harm.

This is particularly relevant when watching SAMs, MANPADs or AAA fired at you. If something is going to pass in front or behind of you, it will arc forward or back depending. It all boils down to how brave you’re feeling, what you consider to be an acceptable miss distance, which determines whether to pump out some chaff & flares or employ some significant avoidance strategy. This is the same driving and relative speed does not help or change the situation. This is why many cyclists are knocked down with the car driver saying “I never saw him”.

So how do you avoid missing the thing that’s going to kill you?
We used to have a few strategies.

Individually, we used to adopt a regular scan pattern, moving our head around the cockpit, scanning outside the cockpit, high to low, left to right, inside the cockpit, radar, Radar Warning System etc etc. You get the picture, constantly moving, taking a new perspective and utilizing the miracle of peripheral vision.

As a crew, we’d split responsibilities. On the intercept phase, front-seater eyes out, back-seater, radar & RWR. In a dogfight, pilot aggressive, eyes out front, back-seater, defensive, checking 6, looking for bad guys creaming in.

As a pair, we’d do all of above, plus check each other’s six. It’s easier to watch out for your buddy, than to check dead behind you. You’d see a missile on a collision with your buddy, before they would. With dead being the operative word.

As a formation, well you get the idea.

A thing we used to do flying on Op Deny Flight over Bosnia was that as one flew low & fast to intercept helicopters, the other would stay high and look for missile plumes and generally watch out for your buddy.

So how does this relate to the PM world? Well despite PMs generally being a bunch of egotistical, power-crazed loons, a good PM recognises that it’s a team game. I could list the vital ingredients of a good team, but I’d miss one and then they’d rightly get upset.  If the team is functioning well, then if one is focused on a particular task, the others will take up the slack and ‘Check Six’.

Another good practice is to chat to other PMs about your project. This gives you an informal check or audit, and they might spot something on a collision before you do, giving you time to plan in some contingencies. Several viewpoints mean that the collision is more likely to be seen than operating as a lone wolf.

My final thought. There is also a phenomenon in flying called target fixation. It has been known that crews have been so focused on hitting the target (with bombs, missiles or bullets), they’ve actually impacted the ground exactly where the target is. The end result might have been achieved, target destroyed, but so were they. It’s always good to live to fight another day, whether you’re in a plane or involved in a project.

Off to brush up my CV, any jobs out there?

Have a Great Week


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