Have you ever had internal politics kill a project?

Once upon a time a Smart Engineer had an idea. It was a great idea. Really, it was. He pitched it to the powers that be and the powers that be responded positively. Since it was, after all, his idea they made him the Program Manager, threw a bunch of money at him, and said "Make it so!"

Smart Engineer assembled his team. I was young then, but one of the Chosen Ones. We worked the design, but myself and a couple of PhD types (call it 80 years experience between the three of us) found a problem in the concept. It was fixable, but it would be fatal to the design if left unchallenged. We had a Big Meeting to discuss the problem. At the end of the meeting, the three of us who brought the problem to light had accomplished nothing. Smart Engineer didn't believe there was a problem even though the problem was outside of his field (he was an EE while it was an aero problem).

At that point, the three of us removed ourselves from the project. I mean, if you believe the current design to be fundamentally flawed and they won't listen, why beat your head against a wall for the next however many years? Save your sanity. Get out.

So we three (and some others) continued watching The Project from afar. We believed the basic idea was revolutionary but Smart Engineer was still botching the execution of it. Each of us had our own solution to the problem and we presented all three (Although we each had our own bias, we agreed that any of the three solutions would work.).

Three years later the The Project had made it to a critical juncture... And it failed. Miserably. The problem we had spotted three years prior raised it's head and it became apparent to everyone that the design had fatal flaws. Smart Engineer literally had to go back to square one. Three years had been wasted. Completely. Utterly. Wasted.

In the meantime, some senior folks had been watching all this and simply bouncing ideas around because that's what they do. When the fatal flaw became known they decided that enough was enough. They decided to act.

On their own time. In their own garages. Out of their own pockets....

....We designed and built the concept the "right" way.

Three months later we had a prototype ready for flight testing. Yes, it really was that fast.

They presented it to the Powers That Be.

The Powers That Be responded negatively. "This competes with The Program!" they said. "Yes, but this one is flight-ready hardware while the other is just a piece of paper!" cried the defense.

The Powers that be were unmoved. "Thou shalt cease and desist. Thou shalt destroy the prototype," was the mandate.

And that was that.

Personally, what I believe should have happened was this: Smart Engineer should have been given a nice plaque thanking him for all his efforts. He should have then been removed from the position of Program Manager. He could have been given a nice cushy desk somewhere to ease his pain. One of the senior guys should have then been brought in to replac Smart Engineer and the prototype should have been snuck into The Program's lab. The "garage efforts" should never have been mentioned again, but as far as anyone outside the organization would have been able to tell, the Garage Built prototype would have been The Prototype. Everyone walks away a hero and the Great Idea hits the field not too long later.

That was about ten years ago. The Program still isn't complete although they have gone through a number of successful tests. Funny thing... It looks exactly like one of the proposed solutions from that first meeting all those years ago (admittedly, not mine, but that's not the point).

/r/AskEngineers Thread