Polish_CrashRussian investigators concluded that the pilots of a Polish airliner that crashed last year in Russia, killing President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, were under “psychological pressure” to land in heavy fog. David Learmount, operations and safety editor at Flight Global in London stated “The pilot didn’t want to let anybody down. He thought he could push his luck a little bit and get away with it. Aviation history is littered with people that do exactly this”. In the world of aviation there is a well recognized word for the “illness” that defines the urge to push ahead against better judgment – it’s called get-there-itis. Get-there-itis is not limited to aviation, as a project manager you are also susceptible to it. And the biggest chance of contracting it is by thinking you’re immune.

Officials of the Russian Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK) said that the pilots were pressured to land by Poland's air force commander who was in the cockpit. He had a blood-alcohol level that was high enough to impair reasoning. Their chairwoman concluded that the air force commander’s presence in the cockpit "had a psychological influence on the commander's decision to rake an unjustified risk by continuing the descent with the predominant goal of landing against the odds.”  “The principle of a sterile cockpit was violated,” said the head of the MAK technical commission.

So how sterile is your cockpit? What internal and external pressures are you under to deliver? Are you immune to get-there-itis? Of course not. But being aware of the signs of get-there-itis and having thought out a “cure” in advance will seriously limit the effects when pressure starts to build up. In aviation good pilots have defined the limits of their operational capabilities before take-off. This includes diverting to another destination should the circumstances change. Visibility less than 2 miles? We divert (so there’s no “let’s try it anyway”). In my opinion, a good project manager does the same thing – pre-defined limits on reaching a milestone should be established and agreed on. Criteria not met? No go-live. Remember, just like in aviation where a pilot carries the end responsibility of his airplane, a project manager always has the final call on his project. Stand up for the previously agreed criteria – you will be doing yourself and your project (and eventually your customer) a favor.