Managing Knowledge and Learning at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established by Congress on October 1, 1958, in order for the United States to keep up with the technological advancements achieved from former Soviet Union’s successful launch of the Sputnik (1957). The Apollo Era-Mission had risen from the support of John F. Kennedy’s goal, which was “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
Prioritization at NASA evolved into the center’s motto of “Faster, Better, Cheaper” (FBC), which was mandated in the Goldin Era beginning in 1992. NASA shifted priorities from: 1) performance, 2) schedule and 3) cost to 1) increase mission performance, 2) cut cost and 3) work force reduction. However, this reform was not as successful as planned. From 1992 and 2000, six of 16 FBC missions failed. To address concern of the impact of failed missions and impending retirements of many of the most experienced NASA employees, Congress enforced that the agency search for the solution to Knowledge Management (KM) and promoting learning initiatives at NASA-JPL. NASA’s KM tools were mainly IT systems of Internet-based databases and portals for ease of lessons. The NASA KM crisis was attributed to the organization’s inability to document experiences of failures and successes of missions or projects; ultimately incapable of capturing the “experiential knowledge” from expert engineers and scientists. In addition, this lack in KM was due to “privatizing knowledge” and promoting creativity, that stemmed from NASA’s culture where competition among centers for projects and funding was the norm. Several KM Initiatives were developed including project libraries for document and data management, developing standards, establishing databases to find experts, ask technical questions, and to capture history and legacy reviews. 1) What were the pros and cons of the “Faster, Better, Cheaper” model? How might outcomes (both positive and negative) of projects executed with this model impact NASA’s stakeholders, i.e. Congress and the general public?
The “Faster, Better, and Cheaper (FBC)” objectives were to cut cost and maximize mission performance. There were several advantages of the FBC reform. FBC allowed compressed development and launch schedules that lead to an increase in the number of missions. Mission time could be reduced from decades to a few years. The number of NASA projects increased from four to 40 under the FBC model. An increase in mission projects was thought to lead to additional discoveries so that NASA could gain further wisdom and space knowledge. FBC missions were changed from one big project to multiple smaller projects. Dividing the program into smaller projects helped to minimize the pressure and stress on the team if a mission failed. Furthermore, one mission failure did not consequently lead to the failure of the entire program. FBC practice allowed senior managers more freedom to implement FBC the way they found fit which promoted creativity and autonomy among senior managers. FBC also reduced the cost of each mission and NASA’s overall budget. For example, the Mars program budget was reduced from one billion dollars to $260 million. There are numerous disadvantages of the FBC reform. Applying the FBC model could lead to more mission failures. During the FBC era, there were 6 failed missions out of 16 FBC missions. Cost and schedule constraints, insufficient risk assessment, planning, and testing, underestimation of complexity and technology maturity, inattention of quality and safety, inadequate review processes, engineering, under-trained staff, poor team communication, and design errors all attributed to NASA’s mission failures. Projects conducted “faster” does not allow for adequate documentation, time for redlining the project, and recording lessons learned from one mission to the next. This could result in...
...# 9-603-062 ManagingKnowledge and Learning at NASA and the JetPropulsionLaboratory
This case focuses on knowledge management (KM) at NASA after a mandate to move from “expensive, infrequent, heavily engineered” projects to “Faster, Better, Cheaper” projects has been in place for almost ten years. Read the case, discuss it with your team members, and then answer the following questions.
Jeanne Holm, Chief Knowledge Architect for NASA faces challenges in loss of knowledge within the institution through two key areas: 1. A large number of experienced personnel was nearing retirement age. 2. After Goldin’s implementation of “cheaper faster better” mandate, many projects were stretched too thin in time and budget to properly pass down the knowledge acquired during the projects to future projects. Holm must decide what is the best way to pass down the tacit knowledge of the older scientist to the lesser experienced junior scientists and overcome the culture of apathy towards knowledge loss in order for NASA and JPL as a whole to continue space exploration in a time of smaller budgets and resources.
1) What were the pros and cons of the “Faster, Better, Cheaper” model? How might outcomes (both...
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission is preparing to set
down a large, mobile laboratory — the rover Curiosity — using
precision landing technology that makes many of Mars’ most
intriguing regions viable destinations for the first time. During
the 23 months after landing, Curiosity will analyze dozens of
samples drilled from rocks or scooped from the ground as it
explores with greater range than any previous Mars rover.
Curiosity will carry the most advanced payload of scientific
gear ever used on Mars’ surface, a payload more than
10 times as massive as those of earlier Mars rovers. Its assignment:
Investigate whether conditions have been favorable
for microbial life and for preserving clues in the rocks about possible past life
NASA’s JetPropulsionLaboratory, Pasadena, Calif., builder
of the Mars Science Laboratory, has engineered Curiosity to
roll over obstacles up to 65 centimeters (25 inches) high and
to travel up to about 200 meters (660 feet) per day on Martian
The rover’s electrical power will be supplied by a U.S. Department
of Energy radioisotope power generator. The multimission
radioisotope thermoelectric generator produces
electricity from the heat of plutonium-238’s radioactive decay.
This long-lived power supply gives the mission an operating
lifespan on Mars’ surface of...
...JetPropulsionLaboratory Harvard Business School Case 9-110-031
1.1 Should Gentry Lee recommend launch or delay for the Mars Biological Explorer (MBE)
Gentry Lee should recommend the launch for the MBE mission. As stated in the case study, Gentry Lee
is introduced to the project with a significant amount of experience working with NASA and
interplanetary exploration missions (Kaplan and Mikes, 2010). Multiple review boards took place to
discuss in detail the consequences and likelihood of risks occurring. Tiger teams were established to find
resolutions to existing problems weeks before the launch date. The case study eludes to a high
probability of the budget increasing if the launch is delayed, and the probability the mission would not
be successful was low. Because of this, Gentry Lee should recommend the launch of the MBE mission.
1.2 What are the most important factors to consider in this mission?
JPL invested substantial time “Identifying, measuring, and applying risk factors against the value
opportunity and the cost of failure” (VMware 2013). This methodology was a key process to deciding to
launch or delay the launch of MBE. One factor that had an impact is regarding the current team
members. Because CalTech operated JetPropulsionLaboratory (JPL), it is likely that the majority of
engineers part of the mission team, were new graduates from...
...JPL – JetPropulsionLaboratory
The JetpropulsionLaboratory is a summer research program for young adults. It tries to attract students to give them research experience that can be much helpful for them in their future work. When you get to the camp you team up with other students who are interested in the same areas as you, and work on the topics you get by the program leaders. To participate in the camp, you have to be an American citizen or permanent resident.
The program costs money, but they have a great stipendium system that gives students $5000 for the summer camp. The stipendium has been too expensive for JPL, and therefore, next summer will be the last chance to get the stipendium.
The program leaders told us what they did o the last summer’s camp:
* “Establishing a correlation between surface deformation and changing groundwater levels.”
The groundwater basins are San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel Valley and Santa Ana. The program was investigating if and how the changing in the groundwater elevation was working and found the follow evidence on change in the elevation:
* Supplemental water purchased to reduce groundwater pumping
* -16% decrease in water storage for L:A Central Basin
Professor David who was one those who talked about JPL during the lecture, told us how JPL “The Rocket Boys” camp was like in 1936, and he also showed a few pictures on how it...
...Michelle Abbott Professor Jon Down December 10, 2002 Written Case Analysis
McKinsey & Company: ManagingKnowledge and Learning Evaluating Gupta’s Four Pronged Plan
Rajat Gupta has recently inherited a fast-growing consulting firm with a strong knowledge base and a competitive market position. In order to ensure the future success of McKinsey & Company, however, Gupta faces a number of challenges: he must provide outstanding services to an increasingly sophisticated clientele, offer his employees ongoing education and upwardly mobile career paths, continually enhance McKinsey’s reputation as a leader in the consulting field, and, perhaps most significantly, continue to leverage his company’s knowledge base across divisions while still maintaining the unity and cohesive corporate culture that have always been important to McKinsey. Gupta seems determined to pursue knowledge as the company’s key business driver. Accordingly, his four-pronged plan includes an emphasis on practice development and organizational learning, an annual program called the Practice Olympics, six special initiatives focused on emerging issues, and the expansion of McKinsey’s research institute. But can Gupta successfully tend to all of these initiatives at once without fragmenting the company? And are there critical business areas that he overlooks with this approach?
Source: The St. Martin's...
Imagine this for a second. A young teary-eyed boy sits in the waiting room of the hospital as the doctor informs him about his father’s failing heart. As awful and heartbreaking as this situation sounds, that boy’s father is able to stay alive via a ventricular assist device that will continue to pump blood through his veins until he can receive a necessary heart transplant. This device is ever-present in the field of medicine and is responsible for saving countless lives. Well this device is just one of the numerous technological innovations that would not exist without the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) whose future is in doubt due to its detrimental budget cuts. In the frequent media’s light, NASA has been negatively portrayed as a useless organization and this has led to many believed the whole organization should be scrapped or privatized; however, due to the positives that NASA has created such as a boost in the economy and technological advancement, I firmly believe that it is crucial that the White House take the initiative and give NASA a larger budget.
At the rate in which NASA’s budget is being reduced, people will soon live in a world in which NASA was a thing of the past. Its budget is now under 0.5% of the entire federal budget, which is a monumental decline from the 4.41% it peaked at during the race to get to the moon in the 60s....
9th April 2015
Get Your Priorities Straight
The losses of the space shuttles Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003 dramatically illustrated the risks involved in the human exploration of space, and provide starkly instructive case studies in the ethics of science and technology. One of the main objectives of NASA is the human exploration of space. As a result of this commitment to human space exploration, the shuttle program is ethically and politically acceptable to the extent that NASA promotes careful and honest examination of the risks and safety of those involved. NASA’s examination is something that cannot be done just once. It is NASA’s duty that as flight experience accumulates, they must continue to monitor risks and ensure the safety of all participants. NASA’s shuttle design exemplifies its balance in safety and performance and an understanding that the flight must safely meet performance requirements. In other words, the shuttle’s flight must perform as predicted, not merely return safely. After examining both disasters, it was found that NASA shortened the examinations of risk by deeming the shuttles “operational.” It is well accepted that the tragic destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger in January of 1986 was the result of organizational failure. Also, the surprising break up of the Space Shuttle Columbia in February of 2003, nearly 17 years to the day after hazardous...
...Responding to Groupthink and Faulty Reasoning at NASA
The group think concept is a summary of why many times groups make poor decisions. Yes its true what they say, that the more 1 mind is better than 2 and 3 is better than two, because they can provide different opinion’s and vantage points then if it is just one or two people discussing something. Many times in a group situation lower level employees won’t consult management because they know if they do, the decision will get bogged down in the wheels of bureaucracy. I think the key ethical problem that lead to the disaster with the NASA mission was that there wasn’t a great deal of trust and very little action taken by the mission control team when they found out a piece of insulating foam could damage the shuttle and cause 7 people to lose their lives. The previously achieved success led to overconfidence and a belief that no problem would bring down the mission. The upper echelon of management was only placed an emphasis on the launch rather than the safety of the astronaut’s or the quality of the shuttle. The engineers thought that the foam strike was very important and could cause a problem, but their manager Linda Ham, didn’t think so and disregarded this and didn’t run any tests to prevent this. Linda Ham put pressure on the engineers to not pursue the matter and because they had no concrete proof to back up their theory, they let it go. During the launching of the challenger...