The Challenger Rule in Action

The Challenger Rule in Action

Valiant has several core rules that guide how we support our clients and ensure that we don’t put them, or ourselves, into a perilous position. One of these rules, which I’ve written about in the past, is what we call the The Challenger Rule. The rule states that an engineer or tech can pause a project, a migration, or change if they feel that the event will have an adverse or unexpected outcome. No questions asked and no repercussions. 

Origin of The Challenger Rule

The genesis of the Challenger Rule was a bad call that I made to push ahead on a migration, against the advice of Valiant’s expert engineering staff. The outcome was painful. We caused ourselves and our client hours of unproductive time and it resulted in a severely damaged relationship. The Valiant team accomplished the defined goals, but the cost was high, and we took the hard lesson to heart.

This pause allows the team to analyze the situation and decide on the next steps. The reason we call it the Challenger rule, named after NASA’s Challenger space shuttle, is because NASA management decided to override the findings of an engineer, and launch the shuttle on a day that was much too cold for its design specification. The override directly led to the loss of the seven crew members and the shuttle.

Now we are not working on life or death situations, but many of the systems that Valiant is responsible for can cause serious outages, operational downtime, or even total data loss. We take our mantle of ownership seriously, and part of being accountable is knowing when to give clients or partners bad news.

Accountability Leads to Success

The team recently encountered a situation that could have led to similar disaster. This time, in part due to The Challenger Rule, we were able to identify the problem and ensure a positive outcome. Our client was in the middle of a migration from one cloud file sharing platform to another – both solutions from the same company, but with completely different underpinnings and security. We started to perform a test migration, but it did not proceed as we had assumed. There was no support from the vendor for this type of migration and little real-world information out on the web, and this data was the lifeblood of the company. In the end, Mark Leech, one of Senior engineers invoked the rule and we changed course. The project and the account management team met with the client and the end result is that we are crafting a new solution that better fits their needs – and they did not experience any downtime or data loss.

I very proud of the team for invoking The Challenger Rule and handling the situation this way. The thing I am most proud of was how the entire team worked together, fearless of any repercussions or backlash, for doing what they know is right.

Great Work Valiant!