What can we learn about Service Improvement from SpaceX?

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SpaceX Warehouse
Posted on Friday, 16th March, 2018 - 13:09

SpaceX has been hitting the headlines recently, with their ground breaking Falcon Heavy launch, so naturally we wanted to look into how we could put an ITIL spin on things. 

SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp.) was founded by Elon Musk back in 2002 with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.

But with something as big as this there must be some serious continual service improvement at work, because one of the key parts of the SpaceX programme is to make space travel as cost effective as possible, by creating reusable rockets. Space travel will no longer be a case of making something to last one flight.

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“If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred.  A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space.”

–Elon Musk

Continual Service Improvement (CSI) is the focus on increasing the efficiency, effectiveness and optimising the costs of your processes. The only way to do this is to regularly review your processes and learn from your past successes and failures.

CSI strategies are based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act approach developed by W. Edwards Deming which follows the below 6 ideas:

  • What is the vision?
  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to be?
  • How do we get there?
  • Did we get there?
  • How do we keep up the momentum?

So if you have an effective process in place, you will find that with each iteration things will improve.

The start of the CSI process is the Service Review. This is where you evaluate which processes you with to improve the quality of, and find out more economical ways of providing this service. As in the majority of projects, you probably will not have enough resources to action all of the points you find during your CSI, so it is best to choose the changes that will make the most impact.

With space travel, the most expensive part of the rocket are the orbital class boosters, and these are what Musk and his team of veteran NASA engineers have been working on tirelessly to make reusable. So once these boosters have launched their payload into orbit they come back and land at a predefined location.

SpaceX Booster Travel Path

With the recent Falcon Heavy launch, two of the three boosters successfully landed on target. The core booster that was meant to land on the drone ship ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ sadly crashed nearby into the sea. It came to light shortly after the launch that the reason for this was because the main core did not have enough fuel to slow down enough to land.

So the next step is the process of evaluation, to see where the targets were met. In this example it is easy to define, as not all of the boosters arrived back at Earth in a reusable state.

Once you have highlighted where the process failed and set your benchmarks, the next step is to define your initiatives. In this case it would be getting all of the Falcon Heavy boosters to land safely. This would mean testing different scenarios to see if the solution is as simple as adding more fuel to the core booster, or if there is something more troubling at play.

Once you have these tests in place, it is simply a case of reviewing the results to see if they have fixed the issues you found. If not, you need to try and introduce and further corrective issues.

Although you’re highlighting the flaws in your processes during your CSI, remember to acknowledge and enjoy the parts that are working successfully. The launch of the Falcon Heavy was marked as a success, and heralded as a key milestone in space travel. And the Space X team had successfully managed this previously with their lighter Falcon 9.

To learn more about Continual Service Improvement, sign up to one of our ITIL training courses, so even if your next project may not be sending a Tesla into Space, you will be ready should Elon call you up.