January 9, 2008 Vol. 1, Issue 1
When President Bush committed to a new direction in space with the Vision for Space Exploration in 2004, his directive gave all of us a challenge bold enough to last a lifetime. Indeed, it is a challenge to last several generations.
Addressing this multi-generational challenge requires a strategic approach that accounts for incredibly long timelines. We are going to need engineers and project managers, and plenty of them. Based on our best knowledge today, a new college graduate starting a career in aerospace will be a senior engineer or project manager by the time NASA is ready to send humans to Mars. Even that estimated timeline may prove to be optimistic once we gain a better understanding of the myriad difficulties of sustaining human life away from Earth for such an extended duration.
The Academy of Program and Project Engineering Leadership (APPEL) provides a variety of opportunities to help the members of our technical workforce develop their competencies and skills throughout the life cycle of a career in engineering and project management. The Academy has undertaken a full review and restructuring of its curriculum to address the agency’s critical needs.
But as valuable as classroom training is, the vast majority of professional development takes place on the job, where we are more likely to be working in a rapid-pace reactive mode than a reflective one. The direct support to project teams that the Academy offers is tremendous resource that is ideally suited to the realities of the NASA work environment. Its roster of more than eighty-five expert practitioners, many of them veterans of NASA’s first grand challenge, is second to none in the aerospace business.
Another critical aspect to our long-term success is knowledge sharing. In this area, the Academy’s conferences, publications, and case studies provide multiple channels for ensuring that our intellectual capital is shared, not squandered. ASK Magazine, which gives NASA managers the opportunity to swiftly tell each other about successes, failures and lessons learned, was featured in Government Executive Magazine as â€œa publication that every federal manager should read. Conferences like the Masters Forum and the Project Management Challenge give us opportunities to come together as an agency and learn more about what’s going on outside our own project teams and field centers.
Three and a half years after the President announced the Vision for Space Exploration, NASA’s professional development challenge is far from over. It will take a cross-agency effort at all ten centers to establish the standards of technical excellence that will enable us to move forward with this ambitious agenda over a period of decades.