Sunday, April 10, 2016

Rocket Design Project, Spring 2016 - What I Would Have Done Differently

So having completed the Spring 2016 Rocket Design Project with the AIAA at UCF, here is what I would have done differently. 1) Have clear goals from the beginning and NOT change them. This is a design project. If you don't know what you are designing for, you can't really come up with an effective design. The mid-project changes royally screwed us (we picked our parts based on a target altitude of 17,50 feet) only to be told afterward that we needed to go as high as possible. This greatly affected our approach to the project. So number one issue with the entire project is that the leads failed to clearly state the goals we were aiming for up front. 2) Give each team a budget and catalog to order from. Doing this would afford the teams more freedom and variation in design. Because we all had similar motors and similar parts, we all achieved similar altitudes (of the four I have seen launch, we were all within about 50 feet of each other, thus proving that similarly built rockets achieve similar altitudes). Instead, give each team a budget (more realistic to real world applications) and let them sort out their own parts. This doesn't impact the organization's budget, because each team is constrained by how much they can spend, but it gives them the freedom to attempt innovation - or at the least, interesting designs. 3) Don't change the design goals halfway through the project. By laying out the scoring rubric up front and not changing it, the leadership pushes the teams toward predesigned goals and the teams know how they should design their rockets. Considering that rockets are basically a tube with a motor in it, a parachute, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears; consistent design goals are a must or people will randomly get screwed. To this end, I would suggest either giving every team the EXACT same rocket motor or making them sort their motor as part of their budget. Either would be fair (more money on a bigger motor removes funds for extra body tubes, couplers, etc.), and for heaven's sake, don't discourage outlandish designs like multi-stage rockets. If someone can pull that off, kudos to them! 4) Just like all the other rockets I saw launched, the intent should always be to safely recover all parts of a the rocket. This restriction would only really come into play if a team made a multi-stage rocket. But for heaven's sake, let's not discourage that sort of thing! Just because a group wants to go above and beyond to successfully launch some outlandishly complicated design with multiple motors and multiple stages, doesn't mean they should get shot down by leadership. The project leads should serve as information resources and a final safety check, but they shouldn't inhibit creativity or safe failures. After all, the most is always learned from failure than success. Of course this is all armchair quarterbacking, but as I do blog periodically, I feel like I get to say my piece. Everyone else is free to decide if I'm full of it or not. Nonetheless, as someone who has a decade of managerial experience and has administered projects in the past, this is my opinion.

1 comment :

  1. You commented on changing design goals halfway through twice, but I think that's okay, because it bears repeating. Your points apply to all forms of design, from computer programming (though our goals change all the time, and must, because of the nature of the business, but you know that going in, so I suppose it's an unchanging design parameter), character design, campaign design, book writing, painting, etc.

    You have a fifth point floating around in there which I think should be made explicit: Minimize managerial interference (this is your point about not discouraging outlandish design). Too often managers think they know the best solution and basically just push towards that, but a better solution might be one that we might dismiss, or one we might not have even considered. If your goal is to find a creative solution, learn to avoid saying "No," because that tends to stifle creativity. Instead, encourage people to spitball ideas. I don't know what the intent of your particular group (class?) is, but if it's to learn, then this is the ideal space to allow people to dink around and try crazy things

    ("Wow, that multi-launch design is really hard! Next time, I'll try something similar!" rather than "I wanted to do a multistage launch, but I wasn't allowed". And if you're going to disallow something, explain why: "I'm going to forbid multilaunch because those are fiendishly difficult, and every year half the class always tries one, and it's always a disaster. We'll get to them, I promise, but for now, focus on getting a basic rocket off the ground")