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1997-12-29 18:29:42


Why Engineers Are More Skeptical Than Managers



This long article deals with the disparity between the assessments of engineers and managers regarding the risks to a system. The managers are far more optimistic than the engineers regarding technology. This article deals with the failure of the O-ring in the Challenger space shuttle in 1986.

As you read it, consider the estimates of managers in assessing their organizations' vulnerability to y2k -- and their willingness to spend big money to solve it.

* * * * * * * *

First, [physicist Richard] Feynman found a wild disparity between NASA management's assessment of reliability of the Shuttle and that of the working engineers. All of the following quotes are from his appendix to the Roger's Committee Report. He wrote,

"It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures [0.01] come from the working engineers, and the very low figures [0.00001] from management. What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement?"

As reality verified the engineer's much higher estimate of the probability of failure, Feynman was more blunt in his questioning.

"What is the cause of management's fantastic faith in the machinery?"


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