Before the Challenger Catastrophe in 1986, where seven crew members lost their lives, the engineers of Thiokol Corporation, the company who built the solid rocket boosters for NASA’s Space Shuttle, had repeatedly warned their management and NASA that the rockets at low temperatures will probably fail. They said that the rubber “O-rings” were not effective enough at cold temperatures to seal the rocket. Yet all memos of engineer Roger Boisjoly were ignored by the management.

There was even a telephone conference the day right before the start of the Challenger Space Shuttle. Thiokol engineers and managers discussed the weather conditions with NASA managers from Kennedy Space Center and Marshall Space Flight Center. At that conference, the engineers said clearly “No”, but the managers said “Yes”, and the rocket started despite all doubts.

The temperatures in the night before start where below zero degrees. The engineers who built the rockets saw the catastrophe coming, and management and marketing decided to start anyway. Thiokol was frightened to lose NASA contracts, NASA was frightened to lose public support. Business won. So they said “we have to do it, we can handle it”. Then the catastrophe happened.

This can happen to software projects, too. If engineers say “no” and management says “yes”, projects probably fail and end in a disaster. Engineers are smart and creative. If they say “no we should not do it, it is not possible to do it, the project will probably fail”, then management should listen. The engineers are the ones who know the system best, they are the ones who actually building it..

P.S. In the end, the American aerospace engineer Roger Boisjoly who saw the disaster coming and repeatedly warned about it lost his job, while the Thiokol managers who were responsible for the disaster were promoted to higher positions..

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