Here I am. Sitting in a dingy cantina on some dusty backwater planet, the remnants of the Empire scattered to the far corners of the galaxy while some rebel scum occupies the capital on Coruscant.
Where did it all go wrong? If you ask me, it comes down to the Death Star projects. I had friends on those Death Stars — I only barely got off the first one alive myself — and I've put a lot of thought into this. I've scrutinized every detail to pinpoint the fatal errors.
These are the 10 key mistakes that led to the failure of the Death Stars, and ultimately, the collapse of the Empire.
Death Star I
1. Insufficient project requirements
The Death Star was meant to be the ultimate weapon, and in that sense it succeeded: a super laser capable of destroying a planet with a single blast, plus 15,000 laser, ion, and turbolaser batteries. It fulfilled every requirement. But the plans only considered offensive measures, and failed to imagine the need for real defense. And as we all know, the defenses weren't tight enough to prevent individual starfighters from infiltrating and causing catastrophic damage.
Don't make the same mistake: It's not enough to just plan for risks and challenges that could affect your project as you're working on it. You need to carefully consider how your completed project is going to function in the real world when writing your requirements. What situations or events could create problems, or cause your finished product to break down/fail?
2. Failure to recognize risk
General Tagge: “Until this station is operational, we are vulnerable. The Rebel Alliance is too well equipped. They’re more dangerous than you realize.”
Admiral Motti: "Dangerous to your starfleet commander, not to this battle station."
Invulnerable projects do not exist, as Motti and every other Imperial officer on board learned the hard way when the first Death Star disintegrated. If your project has a susceptible thermal exhaust port, you need to know about it — even if it is only two meters wide. If I hadn't been reassigned to a transport ship as punishment for getting ambushed by Solo and Skywalker, I'd be a sprinkle of space dust right now.
Don't make the same mistake: No project is too big to fail, and no project is too small to skirt risk. Conduct a thorough risk assessment to identify potential threats and opportunities.
3. No risk management strategy
"Any attack made by the rebels against this station would be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they've obtained. This station is now the ultimate power in the universe."
— Admiral Motti
Against all odds, the Rebels got their hands on the Death Star plans and found a weakness. But the Empire didn't do anything to mitigate the threat: no contingency plans, evacuations, or deploying a patrol of TIE fighter squadrons for defense. Instead, Tarkin shrugged it off — so certain in the Death Star's invincibility that he didn't even bother to get off once it was under attack. RIP, Grand Moff Tarkin.
Don't make the same mistake: Identifying risk and keeping a wary eye isn't enough. Have a project contingency plan in place, so your team is clear on what to do if an identified risk becomes reality. Be proactive in dealing with potential problems, respond quickly if they occur, and do what you can to keep them from happening in the first place.
4. Managers lack necessary skills to aid collaboration & project success
Have you ever worked under an unreasonable manager? Imagine reporting to Vader or Tarkin. Not exactly approachable. And they certainly didn't encourage us to work together or offer new ideas. I heard one guy suggest new stormtrooper helmets (so we could actually see to shoot), and he got Force-choked and tossed into the reactor core. Yeesh.
Don't make the same mistake: Make yourself available to help out with questions and hangups. Offer advice and tools to support collaboration. And encourage your team to share suggestions or new ideas, instead of just following your orders to a T.
Be glad you don't report to these guys.
5. Choosing a pet idea without considering all the options
"The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers."
— Senator Leia Organa, AKA Prisoner of Detention Cell 2187
As Tarkin himself said, the Death Star's purpose was to keep local systems in line through fear. But wouldn't Super Star Destroyers stationed in key systems do the trick just fine? Or a few garrisons of stormtroopers? No, the Death Star was a vanity project to show off the Empire's technological might and mercilessness. But instead of intimidating local planets into submission, it inspired more star systems to join the rebellion. Talk about backfiring.
Don't make the same mistake: Consider all the possible solutions to your problem, and only then decide on the best approach. Don't jump on the first idea you have, or just follow the easiest path.
Death Star II
6. Failure to reflect & learn from past mistakes
This one's truly a head-scratcher. After the first Death Star was destroyed, the Emperor insisted on pushing full steam ahead on the second Death Star's construction. Although he made sure the thermal exhaust port weakness was fixed, he repeated many of the same mistakes: believing that a bigger Death Star with more firepower would ensure victory.
Don't make the same mistake: Hold a retrospective after each project. What worked well? What could be improved? Then take that knowledge and apply it to future projects. That way your process is always getting better instead of growing stale with repetitive, fruitless, or counterproductive projects.
7. A stakeholder insists on unrealistic commitments
The Emperor was dead set on getting the second Death Star fully operational ASAP, insisting on an unreasonable timeline that Jerjerrod's team just wasn't equipped to meet. The only possible result was sloppy work or missed deadlines. And sure enough, without the protection of Endor's energy shield, the Death Star's vulnerabilities made it easy pickings for the Rebel fleet.
Don't make the same mistake: Managing an unreasonable stakeholder is very possible (provided you don't work for a Dark Lord who gets his kicks electrocuting or choking subordinates). When faced with an unrealistic demand, present several feasible alternatives and let the stakeholder choose which approach is preferable. Or, let them know what resources you'll need to make their request doable.
8. Insufficient resources
Jerjerrod: "But the Emperor asks the impossible! I need more men.”
Vader: "Then perhaps you can tell him when he arrives. He is most displeased with your apparent lack of progress."
Bottom line: Commander Jerjerrod didn't have the men he needed to get the Death Star operational on time. He asked repeatedly for additional resources, but Vader and Palpatine shrugged him off. We all know what happened as a result.... Bartender! Another drink in honor of my fallen comrades.
Don't make the same mistake: Completed projects don't materialize out of sheer willpower, and you can't expect your team to fulfill requirements if they don't have the necessary resources. Ask them what they need, and then do your best to provide it — or create a plan that doesn't require those resources.
9. Leadership undermines team morale and success
"Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them."
Vader thought that people whose very survival hinged on their job performance would meet every expectation. Far from it! By killing every admiral and captain who slipped up, all he accomplished was constant turnover of leadership — and stalled progress as a result.
Don't make the same mistake: Did you know people are actually more productive when they're in a good mood? (Safe to say the Empire missed that memo.) Cultivate confidence and a happy work environment and watch your progress soar.
10. Side projects distract from your main goal
When Vader wasn't killing key officers or terrorizing underlings, he was busy searching for the Skywalker kid. He was so distracted, it's no wonder project work was disorganized, behind schedule, and prone to mistakes!
Don't make the same mistake: Stay focused on the work at hand. Multitasking is a sure-fire productivity killer — don't let distractions kill your entire project, too.
BONUS: Starkiller Base
With the Galactic Empire in ruins, a new military junta sprang up in its place: The First Order.
Building on the empire’s research into dark energy translations and hyperspace tunneling, the First Order built an unofficial third Death Star known as Starkiller Base. For a while, it seemed that all the major lessons were learned from the first Death Star’s failures:
- Better use of resources: Without access to all of the empire’s resources, the Starkiller Base project was scaled back in all the right ways to do more with less. Instead of a highly mobile floating space station, it’s built from a hollowed out, moon-sized planet. This cuts down on the costs and complexity of shipping materials and building in space. Destructive power, however, remains uncompromised. The base is able to take down multiple planets at once, giving the First Order more bang for their buck (pun intended).
- Better QA: The First Order learned some lessons from the security vulnerabilities and bugs of the Death Star I and II. Starkiller Base was protected by multiple systems including a planetary shield, Stormtrooper garrisons, and squadrons of TIE fighters.
But there was one major con that ultimately led to its failure...
Failure to use a cloud-based system to manage the project.
Unfortunately for Kylo Ren, Snoke, Hux, and the rest of the First Order, the shield control was localized on the base. In the event of a malfunction or sabotage, the planet would be left completely unprotected until technicians could be brought on site to fix the problem. This vulnerability was exploited by the Resistance, causing the entire project to implode… literally.
Don’t make the same mistake: Cloud-based project management solutions offer the simplicity and reliability essential to success. It’s critical that your team has the ability to access and edit projects wherever they are. If you’re not using a cloud-based system, you’re vulnerable to far less than an attack by the Resistance. A natural disaster, theft, or even spilled coffee could destroy your data and leave your work in smoldering ruins.
Just thinking about these mistakes makes my head hurt. I need another Ebla beer.
Your turn! You've heard the rumors. Share your thoughts on the Death Star fiasco, or other projects you've seen implode.