Thursday, September 19, 2013

Normal versus Nominal


When you're trying to accomplish something, there's a battle between doing it quickly and doing it right.  Some people might argue that if you don't put pride into your work and do the best you can, then you might as well not do it at all.  Others argue that if you spend all your efforts trying to make things perfect, you'll never get anything done.  This is a well known battle that everyone has fought, and we've all seen projects fall apart because they cannot be completed whilst people argue about perfect scenarios and such, that just haven't been met, and which ultimately cause cost overruns.

I watch a lot of space launches from the ULA, NASA, etc, and one word I hear over and over and over is the word "nominal" and it's quite an important term when lives or billion dollar payloads are on the line and things are not quite perfect.

In normal English, nominal means so small that it exists by name only.  For instance "her friendliness was nominal, as she did at least say hello back to me when I greeted and welcomed her to the event"...

In NASA speak, you have things that work perfectly (i.e. Exactly dead-on and normal), and things that are not normal but still within acceptable and expected ranges - which is the "nominal" status.  

In other words, something can be not normal, but still be nominal.  Using this predetermined parameter system, means stuff gets done despite the propensity to not be exact.

Maybe it's time for you to work out what your definition of "normal" and "nominal" is.