Saturday, 27 July 2013

Is it progress if a cannibal uses knife and fork?

The North American XB-70 Valkyrie was a (beautiful!) tri-sonic bomber developed in the early sixties. It was, even by today's standards, an exceptionally sophisticated and advanced machine. What strikes is the short time it took to develop and build - we intentionally omit the information here since, by today's standards it would make many (aerospace) engineers blush. Why is it  that in the days of slide-rules they could beat today's supercomputers and all other technological goodies? A few reasons are:
  • One company did everything - there was no useless geographical dispersion, management was simpler.
  • Complex systems have been successfully built even though complexity was not a design goal - the reason is that product development and manufacturing was much less complex.
  • Engineers were better trained than today - they understood mechanics better that today's youngsters.
  • The average age of engineers was much higher than today.
  • Companies had clearer roadmaps and were more motivated - today it's all about shareholders value not about building great planes.
  • Aerospace companies were run by people who understood the business.
  • Designers didn't have to struggle with super-complex super-huge software systems.
  • Companies were profitable (because they were run by people who understood the business) hence were not forced to squeeze every penny out of sub-contractors, causing them to deliver worse results ....
  • Because of the above, companies could do plenty of R&D - today, R&D is where (incompetent) management make the first cost cuts.
Today, highly complex products are engineered without taking complexity into account. When coupled with extremely complex and dispersed multi-cultural manufacturing, assembly, procurement, design and management issues you run into trouble if you don't keep complexity under control. It is not surprising that TODAY people doubt that man ever went to the Moon! In fact, those who make similar claims cannot possibly conceive of such a complex project being viable because of their poor preparation.