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New APPEL Course Fosters Effective Project Management

Instructor Dr. David Dickey leads a discussion during the pilot offering of Introduction to Project Management at NASA.

Photo Credit: NASA APPEL/Daniel Daly

What does it take to manage a NASA project successfully? APPEL’s new course, Introduction to Project Management at NASA, helps the agency’s technical workforce find out.

Whether they’re considering a career in project management (PM) or are project managers already, at one point or another many NASA technical professionals have wondered what goes into being an effective project manager. The APPEL course Introduction to Project Management at NASA was created to answer that question by offering an overview of the principles and practices of PM.

“The course is designed to provide an inch-deep and million miles-wide perspective on what it takes to run projects at NASA,” said APPEL Project Management Curriculum Lead Daniel Daly, who spearheaded development of the course for agency practitioners. “It features NASA-specific content to illustrate what project managers are exposed to as part of their jobs.”

The course was conceived as part of an effort to foster interest in PM as a career path while supporting organizational improvement. The idea took root at Glenn Research Center (GRC), where a team led by Thomas Sutliff, Deputy Program Manager for the Radioisotope Power Systems Program, identified a need to offer early-mid career professionals a basic introduction to PM. When considering how to establish such a resource, Sutliff thought of APPEL.

“Based on my long-standing appreciation for the APPEL curriculum, I floated the idea to APPEL Director Roger Forsgren,” said Sutliff. Forsgren responded positively: the course was a good fit for APPEL’s curriculum and reflected the Academy’s ongoing commitment to develop new courses that meet emerging training demands identified by stakeholders across the agency. Over the next eight months, Sutliff worked with Daly and others to create a “PM 101” course specifically designed to address the needs of up-and-coming technical professionals and newly appointed project managers. They took care to ensure it would serve as a valuable review for more experienced project managers as well.

The result was Introduction to Project Management at NASA: an intensive three-day exploration of essential PM principles and practices used throughout the life cycle of a NASA project. The course addresses a wide range of topics, including stakeholder engagement, risk management, and interfacing with systems engineering, technology acquisition, and logistical support. Participants are encouraged to follow up with more focused courses to dive deeper into areas of interest.

Like all APPEL courses, Introduction to Project Management at NASA is highly interactive and includes NASA-specific case study analysis, group discussions, and individual exercises. Furthermore, it supports the development of key competencies considered integral to project success at NASA.

“Essentially, the course acts a portal to learning more about project management while emphasizing the skills needed to be a successful project manager,” said Daly.

Introduction to Project Management at NASA was piloted at GRC in the fall of 2016. “More than two dozen attendees shared their PM goals and experiences while gaining an understanding of NASA and GRC-specific PM processes and methods and establishing a local network that may prove useful for years to come,” said Sutliff.

The course was a hit with participants. “The course provided a comprehensive overview of the entire project management life cycle; phases, concepts, specific aspects that need to be addressed. The course training materials included an appendix of tools, which will be useful in my project management responsibilities,” said one practitioner.

Since then, the course has been refined based on participant feedback and is now part of APPEL’s curriculum. It is available to all centers—not just GRC—and is tailored to address the specific project management practices of the hosting center by providing contact names, center policy documentation references, and other important information.

Thinking back to his team’s intentions when creating the course, Sutliff is satisfied that the final result accomplished their goals. “It’s a ‘must take’ for those considering project management as a career path at NASA,” he said.

Introduction to Project Management at NASA will be offered this summer at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) from June 19-21 and at NASA Headquarters from August 14-16. Interested practitioners are encouraged to visit the course page in the APPEL Catalog for additional details about the course or to register.

Learn more about Introduction to Project Management at NASA.

Read the APPEL publication NASA’s Journey to Project Management Excellence.

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