As the ship sinks into the floods, carpenters stare at their feet with concern.
The Swedish galleon Vasa was a prestige project of Swedish King Gustav II Adolf and one of the largest warships of its time. On August 10, 1628, on her maiden voyage, she sank after only about one kilometre at sea. An investigation into the cause and a subsequent trial found that the ship was inherently unsound, because it carried too much weight in the upper structure of the hull. However, no major culprit was convicted.
Archaeologists have since found that the use of different measurements for lengths contributed to the disaster. Although everything was specified in foot during the ship's planning, this information was not standardized at the time. For example, one group of carpenters used rulers in "Swedish feet” which are divided into twelve inches while the other used "Amsterdam feet” rulers divided into only eleven inches. Because the teams of builders working on the ship were using subtly different inches but were following the same instructions, this produced parts of different sizes, contributing to the ship’s asymmetry.
The example shows just how important it is to use common and well-defined standards for projects. Not only comparability and traceability depend on them, but sometimes even the overall success of the project.