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November 29, 2011 Vol. 4, Issue 9


Project management was one of NASA’s top five management and performance challenges in 2011, according to a report by Inspector General Paul K. Martin.

The report cited the agency’s longstanding problems developing realistic cost and schedule estimates and applying project management principles and tools with rigor and consistency. It pointed to the well-publicized problems encountered by the James Webb Space Telescope and the Mars Science Laboratory in meeting cost and schedule requirements, and mentioned that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is conducting a review of project management practices to identify the root causes affecting project managers’ ability to meet cost, schedule, and performance expectations.

It also noted that partnerships can be the source of overruns. This was the case with the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project (NPP), a joint project with the Department of Defense and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Though NASA met its schedule and technical requirements, the project launched five years late with considerable cost overruns due to delays by the partner agencies. The report also recognized that the NASA project management team for NPP used tools and principles that helped it meet its requirements:

“…in reviewing NPP we found that managers implemented an earned value management system to track the development of the instruments NASA was responsible for producing and implemented risk management procedures to identify, analyze, track, and communicate associated risks. As a result, NASA’s instruments were ready in time for the original October 2006 launch, management proactively took steps to mitigate partner delays by performing risk reduction tests on individual instruments upon delivery as opposed to waiting until the integration phase as originally planned, and the final ground and integration testing was accomplished on schedule and within budget.”

In addition to project management, the report identified the following challenges: the future of human spaceflight; infrastructure and facilities management; acquisition and contract management; and information technology security and governance.

Two items removed from the 2010 list were financial management and human capital. In the area of financial management NASA received an unqualified audit opinion for FY 2011, its first since 2002. Regarding human capital, the report noted that the agency’s main challenge will be to ensure continued access to the highly skilled civilian and contractor workforce vital to its success.

Read the full report.

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