March 31, 2010 — Vol. 3, Issue 3
Thinking Outside the Box
ESMD Knowledge Sharing Forum
Metrics, integration, and requirements are some typical project management practices keeping projects "inside the box," according to George Washington University Professor Howard Eisner.
Large, complex systems rest upon competencies, thinking outside the box, and the creation and assurance of a learning education, said Dr. Eisner at an Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) knowledge sharing forum. Beyond these pillars, projects can suffer from "inside the box" thinking. Such thinking and practices include believing requirements are fixed and unchangeable, measuring as much of you think of, and complete integration.
"The objective is not to maximally integrate. The objective is to build a cost effective system," Eisner said. He also challenged the conventional wisdom on requirements. "I look at requirements not as variables, but important things to revisit, revisit, revisit," he added.
Eisner added that successful organizations are developing and applying heritage hardware and commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products. When working with commercial launch providers, said Eisner, NASA should develop a formal method of assurance for projects.
Eisner also emphasized the importance of multiple thinking perspectives, including visual thinking, questioning conventional wisdom, and using a systems approach.
Eisner recalled a project he worked on that made it through several days of preliminary design review (PDR) before getting word at the end that the project had failed the review. The client commended them for a good job advocating for their system, but wanted to see how they arrived at their solution and accounted for alternatives. Systems thinking calls for looking at all possible answers and possibilities, he said.
For a more in-depth look at Eisner's views on managing complexity, see his 2005 book Managing Complex Systems: Thinking Outside the Box