Back in the 90s Jeffrey Mayer wrote If You Haven’t Got the Time to Do It Right, When Will You Find the Time to Do It Over? The title was based on a quote attributed to basketball coach John Wooden – “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” Those coaches, they know some things. The wisdom of this maxim was brought home to me anew while I was practicing for and participating in the Aerospace Maintenance Competition.
Airplane maintenance is production work, there’s no doubt about it. Partly because a plane on the ground is a plane that’s not earning money, and partly because the labor to do the work is relatively expensive, it’s important to be able to turn the work around quickly. But, do it wrong, and hundreds of people can die in an instant. So, accuracy trumps speed.
This was reflected in how the events were scored. The scores were represented as time values, with lower times being better. BUT – time was added for mistakes. Didn’t follow the instructions? That’ll add some minutes. Skipped a step? That will add some minutes. Did all the steps, but bungled them by rushing through? That will add quite a few minutes.
I was glad (though not surprised) to see this. The competition is managed by a former NTSB investigator. Who has a better grasp of the importance of doing it right than someone who has seen the horrible cost of carelessness? Most aviation accidents are due to a variety of factors, almost all human.
I came from an industry where speed, “disruption” and agility are given top priority. When the worst outcome for mistakes is wasted time, money and resources, this is acceptable, though not always effective. But, in my new industry where the worst outcome is lives lost … suddenly accuracy is critical.
Further to that, I would argue that putting “agility” above accuracy is always folly.
With my former employer I had roles in organizations where the message was perpetually “faster, faster, faster.” Deliberate action was frowned upon, because it appeared to be slow, and for people of a certain mindset, slow is lazy, or ineffective. I would argue that speed for the sake of speed is a lot less effective because, as Mr. Wooden reminds us – it takes more time to do it wrong, then fix it, than it takes to do it right the first time.
I have subscribed to the “slow is fast” belief system since I first heard of Jeffrey Mayer and his book, back in the day. It has worked out well for me with my life overall (see: able to retire early and pursue dreams) but it has caused friction for me at certain points in my career, and it even caused some friction between me and teammates at the competition. I’ll keep following it though, because so far no one has convinced me that it’s not the most effective approach, and finally, I’m in an industry where it’s truly valued.