Risk Management at Nasa

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After numerous design options were considered, NASA selected the final configuration for the National Space Transportation System (NSTS) in 1972 otherwise known as The Space Shuttle. In the following years contracts were awarded with managerial responsibilities divided between three field centers; Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas was assigned orbiter oversight, Marshall Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama was assigned the orbiter main engines, external fuel tank and solid rocket motors (SRMs), Kennedy Space Center would be responsible for final assembly, check out and launch execution. With the successful completion of the fourth orbital test flight (STS-4) in 1982, NASA declared the space shuttle program ‘operational’ where by the reusable launch vehicle in which two of the three major design elements would be recycled, (the orbiter and its main engines and the solid rocket motors) was ready for the continuing business of bringing astronauts and payloads to/from orbit. An area of concern which will be explored is the rapid transition from a ‘pure project’ i.e., the NSTS R&D phase (which encompassed 10 years) to one of operations management where payloads take precedence which started five months after the operational declaration with STS-5. The core issue is that there are two types of work performed by organizations - project work and operational work. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines a project as, “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result” and also defines operations as, “permanent endeavors that produce repetitive outputs, with resources assigned basically the same set of tasks according to the standards institutionalized in the project life cycle.” With this in mind, the critical factor in managing operational work is to limit variation. Like variation in operations, the project manager’s goal is not to eliminate uncertainty which is unattainable, but to reduce and control it. (Elder, 3) Dr. Deming strongly advocated this aspect with great success, among his accomplishments in Total Quality Management (TQM) techniques was his use of statistical Control Charts to verify a system was “in control” where by the variation stem from “common causes” and any attempt to make corrections would constitute detrimental “tampering” which would lead to an overcorrection and more variance, not less.(Walton, 24) Since variation is the measure of the difference between each trial (Six Sigma), and knowing projects are not repetitive in nature it is therefore uncertainty that is the enemy of projects. When a project is done we must properly transition the work from the project into operations. There will be times when operations must be changed and updated. Project management is the method of change. Therefore to change the process we rely on project management tools, when the project phase is done we rely on operational management tools. (No limits) The transition point must be properly managed, according to the PMBOK “there is generally a significant amount of interaction between the operations departments and the project team as they work together to achieve project goals.” With the case of the shuttle transition to operations; the Safety, Reliability, Maintainability & Quality Assurance (SRM&QA) efforts were curtailed and manpower reduced because of the perception that the NSTS had reached an operations phase. As a consequence in the reduction of SRM&QA resources there was a drastic reduction of assurance audits by NASA, this lead to a reliance on contractor self verification for quality compliance rather than independent review. As cited in the Lessons Learned from Challenger Report; ‘Personnel were required in some cases to perform work and then were required to make judgments on how well it was done.’ While self assessment is important in the worker evaluation process and performance development - it is contrary to human nature. By...
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