What Can We Learn – 1?

Star date: Z-Ω ↵12-4Q. The year of the Okra

OK, with all the news clips and amazing photos of the space robot landing two days ago on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, The Merger Verger is prompted to ask, “Is there any lesson for us, back here on Planet Integration?”

Let’s start with the basic facts.

Ariane5 proposedA consortium of scientists and engineers has landed a smart box the size of a small dumpster on a rock the size of Manhattan. No biggie so far but God is in the details. The rock is 300 million miles away; it took ten years for the crafty little dumpster to get there. Plus the rock is moving at 40,000 miles per hour, which is fast even on the Jersey Turnpike. And there’s no EZ on / EZ off on this highway; the drivers didn’t even know whether the comet’s surface was paved or unpaved. Other unknowns abounded, the details of which you can read anywhere.

Importantly (and not widely publicized in all the fanfare), an aborted takeoff ten years ago necessitated a change of comet to 67P from 46P, which may not seem like a big thing but was.

Stay with me here: 67P is bigger than 46P. Good, right? Easier to hit from 300 million miles away. Wrong! Bigger means more mass which means more gravity which means faster landing which means greater risk of damage to the scientific equipment. (Merde)

And now, two days into the good part, we find that the solar-powered dumpster – named Philae – bouncy-balled into an unfortunate landing spot in the shadow of a cliff. (Double merde.)

But there is good news. Despite the fact that the intended 4-5 month mission length has been reduced to days, some 80% of the overall mission’s objectives will be met anyway, being handled not by the dumpster but by Rosetta, the mother ship from which it was launched.

Take-Aways and Observations by The MergerVerger:

Good things take enormous amounts of time and ridiculous amounts of planning. That may seem obvious but too many business people overlook it when trying to merge two “similar” companies. Effective integration can take ages but if your underlying mission is well conceived it will be worth all the years of occasional course assessment and correction to hit the goal.

When projects take this long, the leaders must actively manage expectations and must create incentive systems that will keep people focused and enthusiastic during the inevitable “dull” periods. Checking in and checking up over and over and over again can keep your people upbeat and your mission on track.

That said, you should always be ready to change targets. If the bidding gets too high, listen for that chorus of hundreds and hundreds of past deal failures: “Walk away,” it says. As our rocket scientist friends clearly showed, there are other targets beyond the first choice and the right marriage of flexibility and dedication can get you there.

Never ever ever forget the mission-critical elements, no matter how small or simple they might appear. What, for example, are you going to do if your solar-powered acquisition lands in the shade? Have back-up plans for your back-up plans.

A corollary to that thought is this trite but true: do not put all your eggs in one basket (no matter how cool the basket). Remember, even if the Philae never landed on 67P, 80% of the mission objectives would have been secured just by getting Rosetta into the neighborhood.

Comet_on_19_September_2014_NavCam-660x543Finally, do not kid yourself with lightweight worst-case scenarios for the deal. When you put together your pro forma numbers did you base your worst case on the impact of, say, rain on your parade? Try making it 3” hailstones instead. And add in a small plane crashing on the parade route. And maybe a tuba player with symptoms of ebola. THAT’S a disaster on parade! Unlikely – of course – but what if?


  • Vision
  • Planning
  • Patience
  • Communication
  • Flexibility
  • Teamwork

Illustrations courtesy of the European Space Agency

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