ASK OCE — June 21, 2007 — Vol. 2, Issue 4
Message from the Chief Engineer
By Chris Scolese
In this issue we examine the role of standards at NASA, the Department of Defense, and more generally throughout engineering and technical professions.
At NASA, we define a standard as a document that establishes uniform engineering and technical requirements for processes, procedures, practices, and methods that have been adopted by the community for accomplishing work, including requirements for selection, application, and design criteria of an item. Standards are managed through the NASA Technical Standards Program in the Office of the Chief Engineer. Our goal is to provide standards that will allow for a competent and strong engineering workforce for the agency.
Standardization is the codification of best practices and lessons learned, and it is an essential practice as we pursue technical excellence. Standardization leads to increased quality, reliability, and safety. It facilitates interoperability, which becomes critically important when dealing with diverse organizations or systems that will endure over decades. It makes possible economies of scale that can drive down the cost of doing business. And it serves us well both when we are developing in-house designs and when we are verifying supplier designs.
There are over a hundred organizations developing standards that are relevant to NASA's work, and overlapping or conflicting standards are always a concern. To address the proliferation of standards, NASA seeks to adopt industry or other government agency standards whenever possible and only create new standards when none exist to fulfill an essential need.
Standards, when done properly and coordinated with our partners, reduce risk and increase our likelihood for success. This is accomplished when standards are adopted broadly. When this happens, suppliers provide a consistent product, workers are trained in a common way so they can support multiple activities, process variability is reduced, upgrades can be accomplished efficiently, and lessons learned are more readily disseminated.
Of course, standards, like everything else, need to be applied correctly and revised to remain up to date, so just having a comprehensive set of standards in place is not enough. A primary responsibility of the Office of the Chief Engineer is making sure that NASA's technical workforce knows and understands the Agency's standards for spacecraft and technology development. The Academy for Program/Project & Engineering Leadership (APPEL) plays a key role in this effort by offering courses that educate our technical workforce about NASA-specific requirements. Individual field centers also take further steps to implement standards.
With the increasing complexity of our programs and projects, standards offer common ways of working through the use of proven best practices. The Office of the Chief Engineer will continue to work to provide NASA with the technical standards it needs to achieve the technical excellence that its programs and projects demand.