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February 27, 2009 Vol. 2 Issue 2


Communication and risk management were consistent themes in a wide-ranging panel discussion featuring six NASA senior leaders.

The panel discussion, which occupied the keynote slot on the second day of PM Challenge, included Bill Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of Space Operations; Ray Lugo, Deputy Director of Glenn Research Center; Bryan O’Connor, Chief of Safety and Mission Assurance; Kevin Peterson, Director of Dryden Flight Research Center; Mike Ryschkewitsch, NASA Chief Engineer; and Ron Spoehel, NASA Chief Financial Officer.

Ryschkewitsch noted that communication has been identified as a problem at NASA for decades. He recalled that as the leader of the Genesis Mishap Investigation Board, he read “15 to 20” mishap reports from cover to cover, and that communication was always cited as an issue. He also acknowledged that there has been progress in some areas. “Over the last few years we have had a huge dialogue about technical authority,” he said.

O’Connor emphasized that communications flows in multiple directions, not just top-down and bottom-up. “Communications has a lot of vectors. Don’t forget one of them. They’re all important.” He also spoke about the need for improved communication about risk management. “When we communicate about risk, we have to do a better job of talking about the uncertainty.”

Lugo suggested that a willingness to communicate openly about project risks is a sign of project manager maturity. “Some of the lesser experienced project managers…want to keep it close.”

Gerstenmaier referred to risk management as a thought process that has to be internalized. “Risk management is much more than a 5×5 matrix,” he said. “What things on your schedule are most critical to you?” Once a project manager identifies those top priorities, he added, “You need some way that you internalize it in your everyday life.”

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