Ask OCE — February 24, 2006 — Vol. 1, Issue 5
Message From Chief Engineer
Technical Excellence: Roles and Responsibilities
By Chris Scolese
The primary goal of my tenure as Chief Engineer is to refine our way of doing business so that over the long term, technical excellence, safety, and mission success become part of the fabric of our institution. There are two fundamental sets of roles and responsibilities to consider as we pursue technical excellence.
First is personal accountability. Personal accountability means that each individual must understand and believe that he or she is responsible for the success of the mission. Each person, regardless of position or area of responsibility, contributes to success. What we do is so complex and unique that each and every component must work for us to be successful. All of us working in the NASA technical community need to possess the knowledge and confidence to speak up when something is amiss in either our or someone else's area of responsibility. When people fail to speak up, the results can be disastrous.
In addition to personal accountability, there is also organizational responsibility to provide the proper training, tools, and environment.
- Training consists of more than just transferring a set of skills. In addition to ensuring that our people are knowledgeable about standards, specifications, processes and procedures, our training through APPEL is rooted in an engineering philosophy that grounds our approach to technical work and decision-making. These offerings give historical and philosophical perspectives that teach and reinforce our organizational values and beliefs.
- Tools range from the facilities and resources necessary to do our jobs to the clearly documented policies, processes, and procedures that allow us to work safely and efficiently. Our policies and procedures should be consistent with and reinforce our organizational beliefs and values.
- The environment is one in which we can pursue technical excellence to the best of our individual and collective abilities. Providing the proper environment for technical excellence means establishing regular and open communication so that individuals feel comfortable exercising their personal responsibility. It also requires ensuring that those who prefer to remain in the technical field (instead of management) have a satisfying and rewarding career track. One component of this will be a Technical Fellows Program which the Office of the Chief is currently in the process of defining. Technical Fellows will be Agency leaders of their engineering discipline and will be a resource for technical authorities. They will be selected by the NASA Chief Engineer as the “best of the best” of the Agency’s subject matter experts in their discipline.
In short, technical excellence requires a shared commitment in which have everyone has a role to play. I welcome your ideas about how we can best pursue this goal together.