March 31, 2010 — Vol. 3, Issue 3
Message from the Academy Director
The International Dimension of Project Leadership
Complex projects are increasingly international, making project leadership a more dynamic challenge than ever.
Space exploration has always been international. NASA's first international mission dates back nearly 50 years, and the agency has had more than 3,000 agreements with over 100 countries in its history. What has changed in recent years is the complexity of our projects, the capabilities of our partners, and the number of space-faring nations that seek the benefits of exploration. The way we work together has also evolved.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) serves as an example of the current model of international collaboration. JWST will ride into space on an Ariane 5 rocket launched from French Guiana. Two of its four instruments draw on expertise from NASA and the European Space Agency, with the other two coming from the Canadian Space Agency and the University of Arizona. Five industry partners and the Space Telescope Science Institute will also play important roles. The involvement of multiple government, industry, and academic partners broadens the project leadership challenge far beyond the traditional parameters of cost, schedule, and technical performance.
The highlight of PM Challenge 2010 for me was the first-ever international track, which explored the international dimensions of NASA's missions from several angles, including human space flight, science missions, Earth observation, the role of industry, and the shared challenges of workforce development. I was struck by Cassini program manager Bob Mitchell's observation that the greatest collaborative challenges with his program have been reconciling differences among members of the science community. "Where we have had issues on Cassini, it has not been along national lines," he said. In other words, working with international partners is just part of the job, and it's not always the hardest part.
The day after PM Challenge concluded, I met with counterparts from other space agencies as well as representatives from professional organizations including the Project Management Institute and the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) to share ideas about our respective approaches to professional development and explore potential avenues for future collaborations. We face many of the same challenges: attracting and retaining top talent, providing hands-on opportunities for learning, and facilitating the integration of best practices and lessons learned. There was strong agreement about the potential benefits of finding ways to work together, much as our project teams already do. Many colleagues expressed interest in establishing an International Project Management Committee under the auspices of the IAF.
On March 25, I will meet in France at the IAF Spring Meeting with these same colleagues for a preliminary planning meeting of this group, which will be open to government space agencies, industry, and professional associations. Its core principles will be inclusion, appreciation, and the exchange of ideas. I will share more details in this column as our work progresses.
One thing seems clear: in the years ahead, the trend toward greater collaboration in space exploration will continue to accelerate. Getting into space is expensive, and no single organization has all the answers. European Space Agency Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain summed up the imperative for international collaboration in his keynote address at PM Challenge. "There is no alternative," he said. "We shall have to invent the future together."