Quote of the Day – Ragsdale’s Rules

 

Once upon a time, I was a green engineer a couple of years out of college. At the time I was working in the space program making the normal sort of blunders associated with green engineers a few years out of college. Then I started working for a gentleman by the name of Al Ragsdale. He was one of the sharpest engineers I ever knew. His specialty was simulators and simulations.

He had been working in the space program at JSC since the Apollo days. If you watch the films of Mission Control during the Apollo 11 landing you can see him on the other side of the glass window on the right side of the Mission Control room, to the right of the picture, working the back room at the time. He was also working on the Lunar Lander simulators. During Apollo 13 he kept the simulator at least four hours ahead of the actual mission making sure nothing done would kill the crew. (In sims he “died” half a dozen times, but was always able to develop workarounds to ensure the crew did not suffer a similar fate. I think he got a Silver Snoopy for that.)

Anyway, his two years of tutelage turned me into a real engineer. I learned from the example he set while working for him and have tried to follow them ever since. One of the things I got from him were ten rules he used to guide him in his work. In view of being on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, I thought them worth sharing them with the Ricochetti.

RAGSDALE’S RULES

I. Nothing is ever simple. If something seems simple, you don’t understand the problem.

II It is always easier if somebody else has to make it work.

III. Everything changes. Change is often mistaken for progress.

IV. The more you plan ahead, the less you actually accomplish.

V. If you schedule anything there will be a conflict.

VI. If you can’t do something useful, do something.

VII. The time it takes to debug a program is inversely proportional to the number of bugs in the program.

VIII. Teamwork is more important than talent.

IX, The only dumb question is one you’re afraid to ask when you need to know.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . correcting
X.Perfection is the result of ^an infinite number of errors.

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There are 23 comments.

  1. She Thatcher
    She

    Wow. #7, for sure.

    #3 and #4 too.

    And #10. Great list. Hats off, Al Ragsdale!

    • #1
    • July 13, 2019, at 7:34 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. Clavius Thatcher

    I need to post this in my office.

    • #2
    • July 13, 2019, at 7:45 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  3. tigerlily Member

    It’s nice to have a mentor. It’s even better when that mentor is full of wisdom.

    • #3
    • July 13, 2019, at 7:53 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  4. Kay of MT Member

    This is so perfect, and I am going to post it to all my grandsons and granddaughters.

    • #4
    • July 13, 2019, at 8:14 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  5. JoelB Member

    I like #2, #5 and #8. Not so sure about #6. Any examples @seawriter ?

    • #5
    • July 13, 2019, at 9:10 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  6. Arahant Member

    Thank you.

    • #6
    • July 13, 2019, at 10:11 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  7. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    Meh.

    Specifically:

    IV: A grain of truth, but if you don’t do at least some planning, disaster awaits.

    V: True enough, but scheduling is useful for exposing conflicts that need prioritizing.

    VI: Nope. I’m calling [expletive] on this. It is crucial to not just do something when there’s nothing useful to do. At least, anywhere other than in government.

    VIII: Nope. Teamwork is important, but talent is essential. Monkeys banging on typewriters and all that.

    • #7
    • July 13, 2019, at 10:56 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  8. Percival Thatcher

    I like the list.

    I’d add a few:

    • You can’t push a rope.
    • Everything that goes in comes out unless it stays there. (This is known as the Law of Conservation of the Annoying.)
    • The sum of the forces equals zero — sooner or later.
    • #8
    • July 13, 2019, at 11:03 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  9. JoelB Member

    I take this list as a lighthearted poke at those who exalt rigid methodology over practical flexibility. My employer was once big on MBO (Management By Objective). Everyone made sure that their stated objectives for the month were things that they could complete before quitting time the day of the MBO meeting (only slight exaggeration) so that they would not have to explain why they had not met their objectives at the next meeting. Ergo, more planning, less accomplished.

    • #9
    • July 13, 2019, at 2:19 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  10. Seawriter Member
    Seawriter Post author

    JoelB (View Comment):
    I like #2, #5 and #8. Not so sure about #6. Any examples seawriter ?

    Number 6 is a warning not to stand around doing nothing when you cannot do the obviously useful thing.

    One example from the environment in which these rules were developed would be some contingency situation popping up during a mission. The most useful thing you could be doing is manning the console in one of the back rooms working the problem.

    But there is already a team at the console so you cannot be useful there. Find something else to do. Don’t just stand there because you cannot do something useful. 

    Someone can argue that what you find to do when you cannot be useful is actually useful, so therefore you are being useful. But that misses the real message of the rule. Don’t stand around doing nothing – do something.

    I will also note that these rules assume a requisite level of competence, talent, and training on the part of those using them. They are not aimed at monkeys – they are aimed at rocket engineers. Trust me, assuming everyone is competent, teamwork is more importance than brilliance. Brilliant prima donnas can cause a lot more grief than dullards. To quote Thomas Sowell “There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs.”

    • #10
    • July 13, 2019, at 5:37 PM PDT
    • 15 likes
  11. Arahant Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs.

    Been there, done that.

    • #11
    • July 13, 2019, at 7:16 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  12. Pete EE Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):
    I like #2, #5 and #8. Not so sure about #6. Any examples seawriter ?

    Number 6 is a warning not to stand around doing nothing when you cannot do the obviously useful thing.

    In that case maybe we should edit VI:
    VI. If you can’t do something important, do something useful.

     

    • #12
    • July 13, 2019, at 11:20 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  13. Skyler Coolidge

    I also am not a fan of this list. Perhaps it worked and is a result of the climate from which it sprang, but in general some of these seem terrible.

    How can you not plan? Doing something not useful is stupid. I agree with the edit above. Some things are indeed quite simple, but those are things we don’t spend time on.

    • #13
    • July 14, 2019, at 2:09 AM PDT
    • Like
  14. Vectorman Thatcher

    Pete EE (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):
    I like #2, #5 and #8. Not so sure about #6. Any examples seawriter ?

    Number 6 is a warning not to stand around doing nothing when you cannot do the obviously useful thing.

    In that case maybe we should edit VI:
    VI. If you can’t do something important, do something useful.

    Sounds almost like the line from The Red Green Show.

    “If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.”


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    • #14
    • July 14, 2019, at 3:11 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. Seawriter Member
    Seawriter Post author

    Skyler (View Comment):
    How can you not plan? Doing something not useful is stupid. I agree with the edit above. Some things are indeed quite simple, but those are things we don’t spend time on.

    How do you get (and certain others) get “Don’t plan” from “The more you plan ahead, the less you actually accomplish?” Do you see the word “more” in there? It means something. If you still haven’t figured it out, click here.

    As to re-writing rule 6? Like I said earlier, those for whom these rules were written can figure out the underlying meaning. Those that cannot? They probably should not be in the position of planning and conducting space operations.

    • #15
    • July 14, 2019, at 5:43 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  16. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    As to re-writing rule 6? Like I said earlier, those for whom these rules were written can figure out the underlying meaning. Those that cannot? They probably should not be in the position of planning and conducting space operations.

    I think this is akin to moving the goalposts. The post suggest one needs to absorb and implement these rules to be a “real engineer”, like you. The conditions you’ve added in these comments suggest that they only apply to a team of elite engineers who have the cavalier approach to schedules and budgets of government work.

    The rules I highlighted are a recipe for disaster in the any of the typical ten- to twenty-engineer teams I deal with in manufacturing plants across the country.

    • #16
    • July 14, 2019, at 6:28 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Seawriter Member
    Seawriter Post author

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):
    I think this is akin to moving the goalposts. The post suggest one needs to absorb and implement these rules to be a “real engineer”, like you. The conditions you’ve added in these comments suggest that they only apply to a team of elite engineers who have the cavalier approach to schedules and budgets of government work.

    If that is what you wish to believe go ahead. These are rules on how to become an elite engineer. If someone wants to be mediocre, they can go for it.

    • #17
    • July 14, 2019, at 6:42 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  18. TallCon Coolidge

    The rule about planning. It sings to me. @seawriter, my first thought when reading the complaints about IV was “it says MORE”. There is definitely a sweet spot. Less is usually better than more. But less is also almost always better than nothing.

     

    • #18
    • July 14, 2019, at 7:18 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. Skyler Coolidge

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):
    I think this is akin to moving the goalposts. The post suggest one needs to absorb and implement these rules to be a “real engineer”, like you. The conditions you’ve added in these comments suggest that they only apply to a team of elite engineers who have the cavalier approach to schedules and budgets of government work.

    If that is what you wish to believe go ahead. These are rules on how to become an elite engineer. If someone wants to be mediocre, they can go for it.

    Wow. That’s pretty snobby. I dare say that since the Apollo era NASA hasn’t distinguished itself as elite engineers so much as bureaucrats working in engineering. 

    There are all kinds of engineers and not all of them involve large teams controlled by government budgets and politics.

    I think your mentor’s list is cute and probably fits the dynamic of the environment that you’re in. That is, NASA doesn’t let a janitor wipe a butt (on the earth) without safety plans and contingency operations. There are plenty of “elite” engineers that work in less regulated businesses where following the advice on that list would be disastrous. 

    • #19
    • July 14, 2019, at 10:31 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. Seawriter Member
    Seawriter Post author

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Wow. That’s pretty snobby. I dare say that since the Apollo era NASA hasn’t distinguished itself as elite engineers so much as bureaucrats working in engineering. 

    There are all kinds of engineers and not all of them involve large teams controlled by government budgets and politics.

    I think your mentor’s list is cute and probably fits the dynamic of the environment that you’re in. That is, NASA doesn’t let a janitor wipe a butt (on the earth) without safety plans and contingency operations. There are plenty of “elite” engineers that work in less regulated businesses where following the advice on that list would be disastrous. 

    NASA hasn’t been following Ragsdale’s Rules for at least 25 years. These are the rules you have to follow to put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth. Instead NASA has been infected by the bureaucratic manager and the get-along engineer. The type of engineer you seem to be advocating. As you have noted, since they have settled for less than the best they really have not accomplished much.

    • #20
    • July 14, 2019, at 10:54 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Skyler Coolidge

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Wow. That’s pretty snobby. I dare say that since the Apollo era NASA hasn’t distinguished itself as elite engineers so much as bureaucrats working in engineering.

    There are all kinds of engineers and not all of them involve large teams controlled by government budgets and politics.

    I think your mentor’s list is cute and probably fits the dynamic of the environment that you’re in. That is, NASA doesn’t let a janitor wipe a butt (on the earth) without safety plans and contingency operations. There are plenty of “elite” engineers that work in less regulated businesses where following the advice on that list would be disastrous.

    NASA hasn’t been following Ragsdale’s Rules for at least 25 years. These are the rules you have to follow to put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth. Instead NASA has been infected by the bureaucratic manager and the get-along engineer. The type of engineer you seem to be advocating. As you have noted, since they have settled for less than the best they really have not accomplished much.

    I think we misunderstand each other. I am in no way advocating NASA engineering as an organization to emulate. 

    • #21
    • July 14, 2019, at 11:20 AM PDT
    • Like
  22. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):
    I think this is akin to moving the goalposts. The post suggest one needs to absorb and implement these rules to be a “real engineer”, like you. The conditions you’ve added in these comments suggest that they only apply to a team of elite engineers who have the cavalier approach to schedules and budgets of government work.

    If that is what you wish to believe go ahead. These are rules on how to become an elite engineer. If someone wants to be mediocre, they can go for it.

    If I told any of my manufacturing customers (scattered among the Fortune 500), who seem to think I’m an elite engineer, that I was adopting Ragsdale’s rules, my reputation and business would burn to the ground. Only elites in government have the arrogance to operate that way.

    • #22
    • July 14, 2019, at 11:40 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. Skyler Coolidge

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Wow. That’s pretty snobby. I dare say that since the Apollo era NASA hasn’t distinguished itself as elite engineers so much as bureaucrats working in engineering.

    There are all kinds of engineers and not all of them involve large teams controlled by government budgets and politics.

    I think your mentor’s list is cute and probably fits the dynamic of the environment that you’re in. That is, NASA doesn’t let a janitor wipe a butt (on the earth) without safety plans and contingency operations. There are plenty of “elite” engineers that work in less regulated businesses where following the advice on that list would be disastrous.

    NASA hasn’t been following Ragsdale’s Rules for at least 25 years. These are the rules you have to follow to put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth. Instead NASA has been infected by the bureaucratic manager and the get-along engineer. The type of engineer you seem to be advocating. As you have noted, since they have settled for less than the best they really have not accomplished much.

    I think we misunderstand each other. I am in no way advocating NASA engineering as an organization to emulate.

    In fact, I would suggest that Ragsdale created this list precisely because it was not followed by NASA. 

    • #23
    • July 14, 2019, at 3:56 PM PDT
    • Like