February 29, 2012 Vol. 5, Issue 2
The key to juggling multiple successful projects is lots of accurate communication, according to Rod Zieger of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
To say that 2011 was a busy time for JPL is an understatement: four projects launched—Aquarius, Juno, GRAIL, and Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)—and one neared its launch date (NuStar). This flurry of action took place across four integration and test sites and three launch sites.
For JPL’s senior leaders, these projects cumulatively demanded their involvement in 150 significant activities over eight months. Zieger, director of JPL’s Project Support Office, had responsibility for integrating the schedules of those leaders to ensure that the right people would be in the right places at the right times.
The formidable logistical challenge was compounded by the habits of extremely busy executives: updating personal calendars is typically the last priority on to-do lists. While top-notch information technology support was critical, it offered no silver bullet. “No software tool existed to do this,” he said.
The critical variable, according to Zieger, was accuracy of information. The Project Support Office exercised quality control by having a single person dedicated to tracking these calendars and activities.
The effectiveness of these efforts ultimately depended on institutional support and buy-in from the senior leaders involved. “The Project Support Office never told anyone what to do,” Zieger said.