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NASA Honors Exemplary Achievement in Program and Project Management

Researchers from NASA’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation project, which was recognized by the 2017 Program and Project Management Excellence Award (PMEA) for Best Practices Advancing, coordinated wind-tunnel tests of an Active Flow Control system as part of a technology demonstration initiative to support reduced fuel consumption.

Photo Credit: NASA/Dominic Hart

With the Program and Project Management Excellence Award (PMEA), NASA’s Office of the Chief Engineer (OCE) recognizes outstanding PPM performance at the agency.

NASA relies on the skills and knowledge of its technical workforce to achieve its vision and mission. Thanks to their efforts, the agency is considered a leader in program and project management (PPM) practices. To highlight these efforts—led by programs and projects across NASA—the OCE introduced the PMEA. The award is open to agency teams at NASA Headquarters (HQ) and centers, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

The PMEA celebrates two aspects of PPM performance: application of PPM best practices and processes, and innovative approaches that advance PPM concepts and techniques. With this dual focus in mind, the 2017 Call for Nominations invited teams to apply for the award in one of two categories: PPM Best Practices Application or PPM Best Practices Advancing.

“A project may have exceled at straight up, pure execution: head down, nose to the grindstone, push hard, get it done exceptionally well,” said Steven Robbins, PMEA Project Manager, who facilitated the PMEA process within the OCE. This approach is recognized by the first award category.

The second category, he explained, rewards innovation. “In some cases, because of restrictions or the requirements of the stakeholders involved, projects have to get pretty creative. If a project took a novel approach in this day and age, we wanted to recognize that.”

“The successful application of PPM principles is a challenge that requires not only knowledge of PPM but artful implementation to apply new and innovative ways to meet the unique needs of the agency,” said Ellen Stigberg, Program Executive, Program and Project Management Division of the OCE, who served as the NASA HQ review panel member for the award. “Aeronautics, for example, traditionally implements an R&T—research and technology—approach. That has a more flexible framework, whereas the spaceflight framework has more rigor. Today, aeronautics is planning larger scale projects and blending the application of the NASA policies for both spaceflight and R&T. It’s a paradigm shift and they’re taking an innovative approach.”

The PMEA review process took several months. Each center was asked to nominate up to two program or project teams per award category. In addition, each nomination had to include a letter of recommendation from the sponsoring NASA HQ office or from an external partner with whom they worked. This ensured reviewers had a comprehensive understanding of the team’s goal, their application of PPM principles and practices in achieving that goal, any novel approaches taken to overcome challenges, and the results of their efforts. Subject matter experts with extensive PPM experience from around the agency were empaneled to review the nominations.

Five teams were ultimately recognized by the award in April 2017. Recipients in the Best Practices Application category were Jason-3 (JPL), the Launch Abort System (Langley Research Center (LaRC)), and the Spacecraft Fire Safety Demonstration Project (Glenn Research Center (GRC)). In the Best Practices Advancing category, the Commercial Crew Program (Johnson Space Center/Kennedy Space Center (JSC/KSC)) and Environmentally Responsible Aviation (LaRC) were recognized.

“We had a very strong list of candidates,” said Robbins. “It’s inspiring. The word is overused, but it’s awesome to see what everybody’s doing and how good at it they are.”

Stigberg agreed. “We think this year’s honorees are good examples to the rest of the agency because they highlight approaches that other teams may want to take to try to advance program and project management at NASA,” she said.

The next Call for PMEA Nominations is expected to be released in the fourth quarter of 2017. The OCE will contact NASA centers with information about the requirements and nomination process at that time.

Learn more about the outstanding teams that were recognized by the 2017 PMEA.

Visit the APPEL Catalog to discover courses designed to help NASA practitioners develop the skills and knowledge needed to excel at project management.

Explore the Project Management & Systems Engineering Competency Model to learn about the competencies that are considered drivers of success at NASA.

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