Of all our projects, missions we take most seriously. They command our focused attention and our fullest commitment to the professional accomplishment of the objectives we take on.
When projects are given the PX rating of mission class, they have priority and they are run "by the book." Phaeton mission procedures help us plan our actions and support careful preparation and thoroughness in our work. All of this ensures our best chance of success even in new and challenging situations. The product of considerable development, now proven in many trials, the Phaeton operating approach has become one of our key assets.
Phaeton Group engages a wide range of activities. Some are on the commercial model, as when we work for clients who hire us. Some are non-profit style volunteer operations, as in the cases when we contribute our efforts free of charge to public or educational projects. Several Phaeton members are scholars who conduct their own ongoing research, and sometimes their studies come to involve Phaeton colleagues on an informal basis as we consult with one another. Various projects initiated by Phaeton Group may involve one or more of us in research, investigation, experiments, or travel. All these endeavors may come under the name of Phaeton, but only certain special projects rate the classification of missions. Phaeton missions may be large or small in scale, with only a single person or a field team of more than a dozen; they may take us halfway around the world, or no farther than across town; but they are all distinguished by the fact that they are conducted to the full set of Phaeton Mission Standards.
Phaeton Mission Standards
Phaeton's Mission Standards are in some respects similar to a set of military Standard Operating Procedures. They have been developed over the course of many expeditions and through careful study of successful high-performance operations such as NASA's Apollo program. Phaeton standards provide us with checklists, guidelines, and planning structures that help to ensure that our personnel go into the field as well prepared as possible, above all with a very clear understanding of exactly what we intend to accomplish. A significant part of our preparation involves giving each team member thorough knowledge of their duties, and of their role in the interdependent team. Once in the field, or engaged in the mission wherever it may be, the operations plan coordinates our efforts and the standards ensure that each team member can rely on the others to do their particular job in support of the mission. The standards also keep us focused on our priorities, so that the inevitable surprises, setbacks, and complications of real-world situations do not deter us from achieving our key objectives.
The result has been a high rate of success, which we have seen even in novel and experimental situations in which much of the team may have had no previous experience. We can now take on new types of endeavors and unorthodox projects with a high degree of confidence.
Development of the Mission Standards
The Phaeton Mission Standards are the result of an iterative, evolutionary process. Following every mission, large or small, we carry out a formal debrief in which the operation is reviewed and evaluated, and procedures and guidelines revised where necessary. Each participant has their say, and all team personnel are expected to have been observant enough to comment with an informed perspective. What went well? What could have been done better? Were there any measures we overlooked? Discussion handles any concerns, and ensures that next time, we will be still better prepared.
Early Phaeton missions saw these debrief sessions generate many new procedures and revisions, as our approach was tested against a wide variety of field situations--from digging up dinosaurs under the hot sun to working with military agencies on active bases. At this point mission debriefs tend to produce only minor additions and adjustments to our Standard Operating Procedures. Nonetheless, we are still finding ways to improve and fine-tune the system.
Demanding But Rewarding
These procedures require extra work from every person involved. And given the expectations, a Phaeton mission is no place for anyone squeamish about accountability. Practical demands add to the price of participation as well. In order to sign on to a non-profit mission, volunteers must pay their own way to distant locations, use up precious vacation days, and work long hours.
Despite all this, Phaeton mission teams tend to enjoy themselves. Our approach and its values are based on genuine regard for the trust and confidence that others place in us when we are granted special access to a particular location or hired for a particular job. The transparency of the Phaeton operating system shows respect for every member of the team, and for the effort they contribute to the joint cause. Mission personnel are expected to follow orders and carry out the duties they accept almost as if they are in military service; but no one is taken for granted. The performance of duty to the best of their abilities expresses team members' respect in return. For us the result has been rewarding teamwork.
A Successful Experiment
"It was just a theory," says Phaeton director Dr. David West Reynolds, "that an approach like this would produce these good results." Not everyone shared his optimism in the days when Phaeton missions were only a concept. "But here we've tried it in a number of situations, from dinosaur digs to an icebreaker in the Arctic, working for government agencies, on scientific projects, and for commercial media alike. It has worked extremely well for us. We deliver for our clients, we get our work done on time and on budget, and we have a good experience while we're at it. The Mission Standards approach has worked so well for us that now I would not want to run a substantial operation without it."