Ask OCE — February 8, 2006 — Vol. 1, Issue 4
Message from Chief Engineer
Four Guiding Principles of Technical Excellence
By Chris Scolese
As the Chief Engineer responsible for ensuring that every NASA program and project meets the highest possible technical standards, I am dedicated to providing the best possible leadership and guidance for the technical workforce of civil servants and contractors who design, build and operate our spacecraft and instruments. The following four principles are the pillars of my approach to achieving technical excellence.
1. Clearly Documented Policies and Procedures
Given the complexity and uniqueness of the systems that NASA develops and deploys, clear policies and procedures are essential to mission success. Simply put, we cannot afford to make things up as we go along. All NASA technical policies and procedures flow directly from NPR 7120.5C (NASA Program and Project Management Processes and Requirements) and NPD 1000.0 (Strategic Management & Governance Handbook). The existence of policies and procedures does not guarantee success — they must be properly implemented – but their absence is a surefire recipe for disaster. The Office of the Chief Engineer will ensure that effective, clearly documented policies and procedures are in place to facilitate optimal performance, rigor, and efficiency among NASA’s technical workforce.
2. Effective Training and Development
NASA is fortunate that the importance of its mission allows it to attract and retain the most capable technical workforce in the world. NASA in turn bears responsibility for providing this workforce with the training and development necessary to carry out the Agency’s missions. As Louis Pasteur once said, "Fortune favors the prepared mind." NASA's Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership (APPEL) is the institution responsible for the development of program/project and engineering leaders and teams within NASA. Its programs must set the industry standard for engineering and project management training if our missions are to succeed. The Office of the Chief Engineer will provide full support for training and development activities that will allow NASA to maximize the abilities of its technical workforce.
3. Engineering Excellence
Risk is an inherent factor in any spacecraft development. Proper risk management entails striking a balance between the tensions of program/project management and engineering independence. Engineering rigor cannot be sacrificed for schedules and budgets, and likewise programmatic concerns cannot be overlooked in the development of the technical approach to a given program or project. The Office of the Chief Engineer will provide leadership for Engineering Excellence at NASA, and will oversee all activities related to the exercise of technical authority across the Agency.
4. Continuous Communications
Communication lies at the heart of all leadership and management challenges. Similarly, every major failure in NASA’s history has stemmed in part from poor communication. Among the Agency's technical workforce, communication takes myriad forms: continuous risk management, knowledge management, knowledge sharing, dissemination of best practices and lessons learned, and continuous learning, to name but a few. The complexity of NASA’s programs and projects demands an open, vigorous culture of continuous communication that flourishes within the context of policies and procedures while empowering individuals at all levels to raise concerns without fear of adverse consequences. The Office of the Chief Engineer will promote a culture of continuous communications by extending its own communication outreach efforts across the technical workforce and supporting the efforts of APPEL to improve communications through its training and development programs.