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Project Management Nasa Lessons Learned

Essay by   •  May 11, 2017  •  Case Study  •  1,545 Words (7 Pages)  •  2,418 Views

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Brief Summary

The project management discipline encompasses a multitude of different leadership qualities: knowledgeable, goal driven, accomplished, management skills, foresight, hindsight, strong communication and organized, to name a few. In the case of NASA’s missions, project managers must possess these qualities and so much more given the complexity and degree of danger associated with their projects. This case study introduces the role of project managers within the scope of its mission and the overall process of how proper project management makes NASA successful.  The article stresses the importance of individual contribution and accountability. It also speaks to the level of confidence the astronauts have in their contractors, engineers and subcontractors.  Finally, it introduces the database, Lessons Learned Program, that’s purpose was to enhance the project management process by linking each individual within the NASA program on one common program where they can input and retrieve relevant data.  The members who can access this information have used it to further their own projects and to prevent repetitive errors.

  1. Why are individuals so important to the NASA project team?

NASA considers its people, down to the individual level, as the most important asset in running successful missions.  Former Astronaut, John McBride stated in video, “You can’t have projects without good project management” and that each person who takes part in the design, maintenance, building and testing are equally important on the individual level. A key component of good project management is selecting the right people for the right project so that all the elements of the process is expertly met by someone on the team. NASA is a professional and social business, in which collaboration between individuals and teams are crucial to its missions. Individual contribution to the Lessons Learned data base is important as well. If individuals did not share their findings, trials and errors, the chances of repeated mistakes increase greatly.  Additionally, as individuals invest more and more of their careers at NASA, they develop a network of knowledgeable experts in the field that collectively strengthens NASA’s project management. Project managers can have increased confidence in their teams, individuals have the professional freedom to explore methods and improve best practices, ultimately making NASA a continuing success.

  1. What is the Lessons Learned Program and how might it relate to better project management at NASA?

The Lessons Learned Program is a database NASA headquarters established so that their employees can input their, findings experiences, errors, trials, successes, recommendations and case analyses, just to name a few items. These results can be input from all over the world, and be accessed by its employees, manufacturers and subcontractors globally as well. The data inputs are reviewed by a committee of experts, a director and peer reviewed for accuracy and relevance before being posted to the database. It promotes individuals to seek out information within its internal database in order to help solve ongoing challenges, or to build upon significant advancements.  It can serve as a warning for safety checks, a starting point on a new project, or an instructional manual on building machinery. An example of this taken from the featured video was the use of Lessons Learned to improve upon the design of the Orion Space Craft.  Engineering teams chose to build the spacecraft in the shape of a capsule, based on previous results and findings recorded in the Lessons Learned Database.  The capsule shape proved to be more aerodynamic, had better landings and stood a greater chance of a safe reentry into out atmosphere than previous designs. This is a significant, and cost effective lesson learned by the simple act of recycling and regulating a company’s resources and knowledge. The greater degree of input and collaboration between employees, the better each team or individual is prepared to manage a project.  This also speaks to the degree of confidence project managers and teams have in one another to produce quality work, check against previous successes and failures and ultimately provide the best possible strategy for a successful mission.   All of the following areas are improved by the Lessons Learned program: knowledge management, mitigation of risk, efficiency development and the advancement of experience.  These areas are key components in the success of NASA’s project management.

  1. Why is individual accountability so important for managing risk in NASA projects? Doesn’t the team shoulder the responsibility for achieving success?

One of the major takeaways from this video was the mention of risk management. Risk management and mitigation of risk are the major goals in every mission set forth by NASA.  Project managers and their teams must evaluate risk management, predict future risk potential, identify and mitigate risk and quantify what mitigation practices to put in place in order to make NASA the safest possible work in environment. Still, accidents happen and projects go awry regardless of how perfect a plan is. The goal of each individual should be to learn as many constructive lessons from each success or failure, to increase efficiency, decrease risk to not only the employees but also to the costly machinery they produce.  Teams view accountability as going down to the individual, that each individual has a hugely impactful job in the scope of the mission.  Risk can be combined from one individual’s mistake to another and so forth. A collection of risks can be a huge problem as in the case of the NOAA-19, where the space craft failed to be bolted down before being moved. As a result, the machine fell and several key components were destroyed in the moving process costing millions of dollars to repair.  This was not likely and individual error.  The technician who was supposed to bolt down the machine, the manager who was supposed to clear for movement, the movers who had to transport the machine all had an individual part in this catastrophe.  Adding individual mistakes together can amplify the risk potential greatly, and may make mitigation difficult to achieve. Each person, in turn, must take accountability for their actions so that they contribute their very best work to the project. As the popular saying goes, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

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