ASK OCE — April 4, 2006 — Vol. 1, 1 Issue 7

 

By Chris Scolese

 

In this issue we examine some of the highlights of NASA’s past from the Apollo program and the Intelsat I partnership. We also hear from practitioners and researchers in organizational dynamics. Reading these articles makes me realize that what we are trying to accomplish today as we move toward implementing the Vision for Exploration is a lot like what we did a generation ago during the early days of spaceflight. It also highlights the need to develop new strategies as we face a different environment with new challenges.

Today’s vision is to not only reach the Moon with humans but to send humans further into space, to Mars and beyond. We are also challenged to find Earth-like bodies in space and to become a truly space-faring civilization. In addition, as you have heard, we intend to accomplish this task in a constrained funding environment and to partner with commercial and international organizations. This provides both opportunities and challenges.

In the 1960s for Apollo we adopted, adapted, and improved management and technical systems from various organizations to send a man to the Moon and return him safely to the Earth before the end of that decade. The article on all-up testing provides a glimpse of this. What made this all work, what allowed multiple organizations and systems to converge, was a common commitment to technical competence and technical excellence. As we face our exciting future we too must focus on our common commitment to technical excellence to develop the technical and management systems to allow us to succeed.

The NASA Mission directorates, our ten centers, and our partners have the talent and commitment to meet our goals if we work together. So we must adapt our processes and procedures to meet these new challenges.

In 2003 the CAIB Report called for establishing an independent Technical Authority (iTA) for the Shuttle. NASA adjusted its governance model to reflect clearly the programmatic and technical aspects of our activities.

With this new governance model and the recognition of the common commitment of NASA personnel to technical competence and excellence, we were able to expand the iTA to all of our activities as the technical authority. This authority is resident at each center to provide the engineering independence that CAIB stressed and to leverage the talents and capabilities unique to each organization. It will be funded separately from programs or projects. Today NASA uses the Agency Service Pool to provide Technical Authority funding independent of programs and projects. Different accounting approaches are being considered for FY 07, but one thing is certain: independent Technical Authority funding will be preserved.

Technical authorities will be selected based on demonstrated technical competence and leadership. Under this system there will be new roles and responsibilities. Chief Engineers will provide the independent day-to-day technical advice to the programs and projects. Lead Discipline Engineers at each center will mentor project engineers and assure that a technically excellent product is provided. Project discipline engineers will support exciting work by developing options or delivering hardware and software. In addition, difficult issues will be able to be raised via separate technical and programmatic paths for resolution, ultimately to the Administrator. This will ensure that everyone on the engineering team is empowered to exercise appropriate technical authority.

A new operational concept for Technical Authority has received approval from the NASA Strategic Management Council. Over the coming weeks and months, my team and I will be visiting the field centers to discuss these changes. I look forward to working with you on this implementation.

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