Taking the Kobayashi Maru

ArgonDigital - enterprise automation experts

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Have you ever been on a project that seemed impossible? Have you ever felt that the outcome of a project, no matter what you did, would result in failure?


I found myself thinking like this a few months back. The project had completely unrealistic deadlines set by executives. The business refused to participate in industry best practices. Taskforces had to work in parallel, so as the business was determining their internal model of their operations, we were writing and revising business requirements to reflect the decisions they made…and obviously the final versions of each document were due on the same day. My favorite part was that the requirements strategy we came up with was set aside for a different approach, only to be validated months later.


Throughout this project I felt like I was in a no-win situation, and I was reminded of the Kobayashi Maru. The Kobayashi Maru is a test in the Star Trek universe that is taken by Starfleet cadets in the command track. The scenario is that the test taker’s ship, let’s call it the Enterprise, receives a distress signal from a dysfunctional ship called the Kobayashi Maru. The Enterprise is the only ship in the area, and if the Kobayashi Maru doesn’t receive assistance, all the crew members may very well die. Problem is, the Kobayashi Maru is stranded in a Klingon Neutral Zone, so if the enterprise were to attempt rescue, they would be risking their own ship and lives, as well as interstellar war.


From what I understand, most of the fictional cadets that take this test always opt to attempt a rescue. When a cadet does attempt a rescue, his or her ship immediately loses communication with the Kobayashi Maru, is fired upon by Klingon ships, and is either destroyed or has to abandon the rescue mission. This is not an accident. The test is actually programed to be a no-win scenario, designed to test the character of a captain when faced with certain defeat. The instructors want to know; how does one keep command of a ship that is doomed.


Our team took this test. We came in with good intent, we tried our best to achieve our goal, but in the end the conditions we were working in prevented us from achieving a true win. What we did achieve though, was the best possible product we could have provided given the conditions. At every corner we were told no, the business does not have time to perform an exercise that is unfamiliar. No, we are not sure about that strategy. In the end, we delivered exactly what they asked for, but not what we knew they needed.


That doesn’t count as a win in my book. However, we did not panic, and the ship was kept in control. Everything they asked for was delivered, on time and with more information than they had expected. The team could have easily been apathetic after all the program changes that were made, but motivation continued, and despite inevitable doom, we did our duty.


Now, if only someone was willing to be Captain Kirk…


…which will be covered in the next segment; Beating the Kobayashi Maru.

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