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ASK OCE — February 23, 2007 — Vol. 2, Issue 2

When experts get together to talk risk management, it becomes clear that there are many perspectives on the elusive question of balance.

Boeing’s Joy Bryant, Johnson Spaceflight Center’s (JSC) John Shannon, and NASA Headquarters’ Greg Robinson and John Tinsley sat down with moderator Mike Lutomski from JSC at PM Challenge 2007 to discuss the role of risk management in projects, and their dialogue illustrated the wide range of conceptual approaches to the practice of risk management.

The degree of formality in the risk management process elicited multiple views. Bryant advocated in favor of a loose structure, suggesting that formality in risk management is a risk in itself that can discourage teams from bringing concerns forward. Robinson, however, noted that some formality is necessary. Everyone on the team needs to speak the same language, he stressed, and thus a formal institutionalized terminology is necessary.

Similarly, participants differed on where risk management fits into the project structure. Bryant characterized risk management as an augmentation to program management, though he considered it separate. Tinsley said it is hard to disaggregate risk management, project management, and systems engineering. Robinson took a holistic look from a grassroots perspective: risk management starts at the lowest levels, beginning with those who know the product identifying problems, and then works up the organizational chain to the decision-making level.

The panel identified corporate culture as a key component of successful risk management. Shannon emphasized looking at why a culture is the way it is, and whether it is open enough to bring risks to the surface. Time is one consideration. Shannon noted that the Shuttle program is just now changing the way it uses risk management as a tool. As an organization gets more comfortable with risk management and sees results, the culture changes. This is why it is important to implement risk management early in the project life cycle. Robinson cited the example of the last Flight Planning Board meeting prior to the launch of New Horizons, where many people had strong opinions and all voices were heard, as one that illustrated a healthy organizational culture.

Another issue was whether risk management should differ according to mission type and size. Tinsley noted the need for balance and a reliance on common sense; a project needs to look at the budget and account for risk appropriately. The same applies to communicating risks for small parts of projects. Lutomski spoke of the importance of ranking a risk item based on where you sit in relation to a project as a whole — if a risk is serious to your part, even if it would not seem large to the grand scheme of the project, communicate it.

Participants also viewed risk management in terms of the separation of powers between technical authority and management. Robinson felt that the purpose of the governance model is to focus debate where it belongs: it creates a functional flow that leads to mitigations. At the end of the day, he noted, the project manager is ultimately responsible for the success of the mission.


In This Issue

Message from the Chief Engineer

NASA on the Hill: Marburger Testifies on R&D Budget

This Week in NASA History: Discoverer 1

PM Challenge Executive Leadership Roundup

What’s Ahead for Project Management: A Roundtable Discussion with PMI

22nd Annual George M. Low Awards: Presented at PM Challenge 2007

Integrating Risk and Knowledge Management in ESMD

Hugh Woodward on Surprising Keys to Project Success

What’s the Situation?

Let’s Talk Risk Management

APPEL Masters Forum: Call for Nominees and Speakers

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