From the APPEL Director: A Partnership with Universities

By Ed Hoffman

The Center for Program/Project Management Research is intended to be a catalyst for engaging universities to collaborate with NASA in the important domain of program and project management.

The Center for Program/Project Management (CPMR) recently selected a first round of awards for research in the field of program/project management. CPMR is a newly established alliance between the NASA Academy of Program and Project Leadership (APPL) and Universities Space Research Association (USRA). The fundamental intent of this partnering is to initiate a formal forum for universities to better assist NASA in enhancing program/project management capability. Specific objectives start with establishing a relationship between NASA and the university community to engage in world-class research in the discipline of program and project management.

This initial objective is in no small part vital to better understanding and overcoming the challenges facing NASA and Aerospace missions. In the President’s Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy Report, NASA is encouraged to pursue broadened relationships with universities (as well as other organizations) to promote more effective and efficient pursuit of our programmatic goals. This is a common-sense strategy since the US economy has long been fueled by the brainpower and wealth of talent located at the nation’s universities.

In the 21st century, the role of strong partnerships among government, industry and universities, will continue to become more visible and essential for a successful space program. Government has the role of pursuing ambitious projects that are too visionary, costly or risky for the private sector to pursue. Industry is the engine through which work is completed (approximately 90 percent of NASA funding goes directly to industry partners.) The university sector has been a less frequently tapped source of capability; leading minds are able to research, explore and study topics over a longer timeframe with scientific scrutiny and debate.

In recent years I have listened to NASA leaders ask fundamental questions about the nature of programs and projects. Many of these questions can be approached either from a quick-answer solution, or from the perspective of engaging and listening to what universities have discovered scientifically. From the latter we can then determine strategically, and with reflection, what best fits the unique demands of NASA projects.

Partnering with universities is certainly nothing new to NASA. USRA itself has its genesis in a request by the NASA Administrator in the 1960s to engage university minds in lunar research. However, all of these efforts have been in areas of natural sciences — astrophysics, astronomy, life, space and earth science. Such collaboration with universities in the field of program and project management has been non-existent. This is partly due to a bias I have witnessed that “we can’t learn anything from universities about program or project management.” This has no basis in reality as universities are increasingly managing NASA and DoD missions: University of Colorado, Boulder, Johns Hopkins, and Penn. State, for example. At the same time, universities have established world-class programs that develop program and project management expertise: Steven’s Institute, George Washington University, University of Maryland, and others.

It is consistent with the call of the President’s Commission to seek out and form sensible partnerships with academia and other organizations. The intent is for CPMR to promote cutting-edge research, foster greater collaboration, disseminate information, encourage and develop student councils, and generally serve as a resource for program/project management knowledge. The Center will also facilitate training, workshops, and developmental opportunities, providing an environment to openly pursue innovative concepts.

For more information on CPMR, contact Deputy Director David Holdridge at dhold@seabrook.usra.edu, (301) 805-8396, or visit the CPMR website at http://cpmr.usra.edu/.

About the Author(s)

Dr. Edward Hoffman is the NASA Chief Knowledge Officer. He previously served as the director of the NASA Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership (APPEL), which he founded in 1995.

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