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Integrating Program Management and Systems Engineering by Eric Rebentisch

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1TOWARD A NEW MINDSET

1.1 Striving for Perfection in Complex Work

A once relatively common expression in the United States was “if we can put a man on the moon, why can't we <insert complaint>?” It conveyed a sense that the country, its technical experts, its government, and its people were capable of amazing things if they put their minds to it. There was another term that went along with it—“rocket scientists.” Those were the clever people who made those miraculous things happen so that they seemed commonplace. Given enough rocket scientists, one imagined, just about any problem, no matter how complex, could be solved. Perhaps those expressions are locked in a certain time and place—the late 1960s and early 1970s—when the United States was routinely putting men on the moon, less than seven decades after people first took to the sky in the dawn of powered flight.

The same expression simultaneously conveyed a sense of frustration that things don't always work as hoped or planned, no matter how clever or skilled we might appear or how much thought we put into the plans. Why is it that despite having advanced knowledge, tools, and capabilities, and even having demonstrated that it is possible to do something amazing, best efforts sometimes end in disappointment or failure? Many other human activities that don't involve the complexities of spaceflight but are in their own way complex (think energy, infrastructure, transportation, public health) nevertheless invoke the same question. ...

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