Tuesday, March 22, 2016

No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy

Field Marshall Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke once wrote that "no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force." I got to experience this firsthand today when I compared the model our team has drawn up with the parts we are actually to use. Oops. Bits were neither shaped nor fit together the way we were expecting. Needless to say that this is a setback. We are reassessing our design, and I think we may be able to maintain our predicted apogee of 3,200 feet. In the meantime, we assembled the parts that did adhere to our expectations - the motor mount.

Unfortunately, Helmuth's quote underscores an issue we have been encountering again and again throughout the entire project. The entire thing is horribly unorganized and poorly executed.

Through the first real meeting where we derived the idealized model I presented last time, everything looked great. But as we drew closer to and throughout the design phase, we found that the leads never provided sufficient information, and in the most infuriating moment, changed the entire design goal after we chose the parts we would be using. The lattermost was the worst, because where we were initially trying to get as close to 1,750 feet as possible - something that would require a lot of extra weights and inefficient fin design to hold back our motors, we are now expected to attain the highest possible apogee - something that requires as large a motor pushing as little weight as possible. As we were expecting to aim for a low target, we chose larger, heavier, more cumbersome parts and a weaker motor. Now we are scrambling to shed weight and hoping other teams are grossly inefficient.

While that has been the worst of it so far, the constant lack of information about parts and materials, even now as we redesign our rockets, hampers our attempts to build an accurate model. We are completely guessing at the density of the acrylic we will use to cut our fins. So as we are doing as a past employer of mine once said: "Control your controllables." I don't know the density of the acrylic, but the smaller the fins, the lighter they'll be regardless. And that is where things stand presently. I know we need a charge in the rocket to jettison the nose cone and deploy the parachute, but I don't know what it weighs. We need a surprise shock chord that we need to weigh and add into our model.

As frustrating and annoying as all of this is, I have to say it is probably a good representation of how things work in real life. I don't know how many times in previous jobs, I had a project that I'd start under a certain set of instructions and assumptions just to have them changed just before I finished. So really, this amateurish lack of organization is preparing all of us for real workplace conditions. That doesn't mean I like it. It just means that no plan of operations extends beyond first contact with the project leaders.


  1. I have often thought that if anyone were daft enough to put me in charge of a computing course, a compulsory coding project would be to add a feature onto a project by a previous year's student. This sounds like a similar sort of thing, except maybe it's not being done deliberately.

    1. That sort of project would be really interesting, I think. The incongruities in this project really seem to stem from a continuously evolving idea of what the project leads wanted to accomplish, which left us scrambling to adapt our plans along the way. Now that we are actually assembling stuff, they will get what they get, but it is still a good reminder of what awaits at the end of our education.