ASK OCE June, 14, 2006 — Vol. 1, Issue 9
Message from the Chief Engineer
Building Systems Engineering Capability
By Chris Scolese
This issue addresses several efforts that the Office of the Chief Engineer is taking to improve NASA's engineering capability as the Agency orients itself toward implementing the President’s Vision for Space Exploration. The success of the Vision ultimately will ultimately hinge on technical excellence, requiring a workforce second to none in terms of people, training, tools, and dedication.
The latter is never a problem at NASA. I have never seen a group of people so dedicated to an activity as we have. People regularly – routinely — make personal sacrifices, often giving up holidays and family time to accomplish our missions. The challenge for the organization, then, is to recognize the Agency's strategic needs in terms of its workforce. NASA’s senior leadership is already doing this as it looks to the future.
When Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin spoke at Project Management Challenge 2006 in March, he emphasized the need for better systems engineering at NASA. This is a major priority that we share. As Chief Engineer, it is my responsibility to ensure that the Agency has the right tools to build its engineering capacity. The Office of the Chief Engineer has initiated two major actions to develop stronger systems engineering.
For many years, NASA has lacked adequate Agency-wide policies and procedures for systems engineering. While some individual centers have excellent documentation in place, the missions that will comprise the Vision for Space Exploration will demand a common set of requirements and definitions. To address this need, the Office of the Chief Engineer released Systems Engineering Procedural Requirements (NPR 7123.1)
in March 2006. This document articulates and establishes the requirements for performing, supporting, and evaluating systems engineering at the organizational level. This common systems approach spelled out in NPR 7123.1 will enhance NASA's core engineering, management, and scientific capabilities and processes to ensure safety and mission success, increase performance, and reduce cost.
Another key component of this is professional development. Under my direction, the Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership (APPEL) has already begun a major effort to build a systems engineering program comparable to what it currently offers in program/project management. Tim Brady of Johnson Space Center has joined APPEL on a one-year detail to lead this initiative. APPEL is currently assembling teams of experts from NASA, private industry, and universities to help us benchmark our existing systems engineering competencies, examine best practices across the Agency, identify gaps, and devise a comprehensive professional development strategy that will give us the systems engineering capability we need.
As NASA implements the President's Vision for Space Exploration, we will face the most complex challenges in the history of engineering. The interactions among systems required to sustain human life on the moon or send humans to Mars will demand more from our systems engineers than ever before. We clearly have our work cut out for us.