Vasa syndrome: Insights from a 17th-century new-product disaster

Eric H. Kessler, Paul E. Bierly, Shanthi Gopalakrishnan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Swedish ship Vasa was one of the most spectacular warships ever built. On its maiden voyage in August of 1628, after going less than one mile, the vessel keeled over and sank 110 feet to the bottom of the Stockholm harbor. Fifty crewmembers went down with the ship. It was truly a disaster-and an excellent example of a failure in the new-product development process. In this article, we show how insights gleaned from the Vasa incident are relevant to contemporary organizations. Seven potential problems in new-product development are examined. Together, these problems comprise the Vasa syndrome - a complex set of challenges that can ultimately overwhelm an organization's capabilities. Each problem provides an opportunity to develop managerial competencies in understanding these problem areas, linking these problems to failures described in the Vasa case and contemporary organizations, and determining how to avoid or minimize these problems in the new-product development process. The Vasa case and examples from contemporary organizations demonstrate how history continues to repeat itself in the process of new-product development, and we provide guidelines on how to avoid falling prey to the Vasa syndrome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-48
Number of pages11
JournalIEEE Engineering Management Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Strategy and Management
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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