Back to Top
Putting The Fundamentals of Project Management into Practice

The people who manage NASA’s missions rely on project management techniques to do their jobs. Now an APPEL course brings those skills to a whole new NASA audience.

Since its inception, APPEL has offered courses in project management to those who work directly on NASA missions. The Academy is currently expanding its scope with a course on the basic tools and techniques of project management geared toward people who support the agency’s missions. APPEL News recently spoke with APPEL Curriculum Manager Donna Wilson and PM Curriculum Lead Daniel Daly to learn more about Project Management for Non-Technical NASA Staff, a highly interactive APPEL pilot course that helps a new audience put the theories of project management into practice to benefit the agency overall.

APPEL News: What is Project Management for Non-Technical NASA Staff?

Daniel Daly: Project Management for Non-Technical NASA Staff is a facilitator-led course that trains people in the fundamentals and techniques of project management in a way that allows them to apply their new skills to their jobs immediately. The goal of the course is to enable people to learn and practice the tools and techniques that are critical to plan and manage any project successfully.

Donna Wilson: At NASA, we have our mission folks who have already learned—and utilize—formal project management guidelines and procedures. This course teaches those fundamentals to people who are not necessarily mission folks, but who are supporting the overall NASA mission. It’s a hands-on, learn-by-doing approach for those who maybe haven’t studied project management techniques in the past but could use the tools to enhance their work at NASA.

APPEL News: What interests you about Project Management for Non-Technical NASA Staff?

Wilson: One thing that’s great about the course is it’s extremely interactive. Participants first learn the concept and then have the opportunity to practice it right away. Plus, the course takes putting theory into practice to a whole new level because people can bring their own project to the classroom. This allows participants to take the course learning back to their jobs in a very concrete way. It reinforces the learning and makes everything more relevant.

Daly: It provides the best opportunity for the retention and subsequent use of the project management skills they learn in the classroom.

APPEL News: How did you decide to develop a course that teaches the fundamentals of project management to non-technical folks? Had you identified a need for this?

Wilson: We’d been approached in the past about helping mission support teams develop a project plan. We already knew that was important because we use them in our work at APPEL. Our projects aren’t mission oriented, but we use a project plan and process for everything we do.

Daly: The course itself was recommended to us by the training staff at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).

APPEL News: So the course was already being offered at a NASA center?

Wilson: At a meeting last summer, the APPEL Point of Contact at GSFC told us they were delivering this kind of course at their center. We said, “This is something we might like to do because there’s a need in our curriculum.” So we reached out to the instructor—who teaches a couple of other courses for APPEL—and decided to pilot the course for the entire agency. We piloted it last fall and got a lot of very good feedback from the participants. Now we’ve enhanced it based on their suggestions and intend to pilot the new version.

APPEL News: Who do you see as the target audience for the course?

Daly: People in procurement, finance, education, training, information technology, facilities and maintenance. Basically, those in supportive roles for the NASA missions.

APPEL News: What skills or benefits will participants gain from attending Project Management for Non-Technical NASA Staff?

Wilson: The course is a great opportunity for people who are not directly on a mission but are supporting the overall mission of NASA to learn how to manage a project. They might not be managing Orion or a big program that you hear about on the news, but what they’re doing is important. The course gives them a process, an understanding of the tools and techniques that will make the work on their projects flow more smoothly and efficiently.

Also, it provides consistency within the agency. Participants learn how to manage a project using proven techniques. This aligns them with what PMs are doing on larger projects at the agency.

APPEL News: The course sounds like it could be a great resource for people in a range of different roles at the agency. How can NASA employees get it offered at their centers?

Daly: If people are interested in having this course at their centers, they should contact their APPEL Center Points of Contact (POCs). They can find a list of the APPEL POCs for each center on the APPEL website.


Project Management for Non-Technical NASA Staff was originally piloted at the Academy Center for Excellence in September 2014, and an enhanced version will be piloted at Langley Research Center (LaRC) in July 2015. The course is being evaluated for inclusion in APPEL’s regular course offerings. It is taught by Larry Suda, a senior practitioner with 30 years of experience in the project management industry.

About the Author

Share With Your Colleagues