NASA Lessons Learned: Space Shuttle Program/Operations-Processing/Workforce

Status Report From: NASA Public Lessons Learned System (PLLS) Database
Posted: Wednesday, October 1, 2003

PLLS Database Entry: 1065

Lesson Info

  • Lesson Number: 1065
  • Lesson Date: 01-feb-1999
  • Submitting Organization: HQ
  • Submitted by: David M. Lengyel


Space Shuttle Program/Operations-Processing/Workforce

Description of Driving Event:

Effects of Lack of Knowledge and Experience on Operations

Lesson(s) Learned:

The combined effect of workforce downsizing, the recent hiring freeze, and the Shuttle Processing contract (SPC) transition, especially at KSC, has raised the possibility that NASA senior managers in the future will lack the necessary hands-on technical knowledge and in-line experience to provide effective insight of operations.


NASA should develop and promulgate training and career paths, with a special focus on providing hands-on technical knowledge and experience, so that NASA's future senior managers will possess the range of skills and experience required for effective insight of the SPC.

Evidence of Recurrence Control Effectiveness:

NASA concurs in the recommendation and is intensifying and refocusing its efforts in training and in support of career development at all levels. At the operating level, NASA managers are instructed to plan and to take advantage of all opportunities to obtain operational experience through audit, surveillance, and other interfaces to provide hands-on experience to NASA personnel. These include, in addition to the simulator training discussed in the response to Recommendation #2:

  • co-op assignments partnered with contractor systems engineers
  • direct observation or procedure review of critical tasks
  • management of Shuttle launch countdown, launch, and landing/recovery
  • participation in flight and ground systems development and enhancements
  • processing mid-decks, utilization payloads, and partial Shuttle payloads
  • participation in contractor testing, and anomaly resolution
  • ensuring adequately designed, tested, and assembled hardware

Additionally, employees are provided cross training and specialized training as needed and strongly encouraged to take advantage of program related training. The key to developing future generations of senior managers is to provide hands-on experience, with progressively more responsible assignments through one's career. Both NASA and the contractors continually seek improvements in the succession planning and preparations for the next generation of supervisors and managers. Special consideration is given to assuring that broad training and hands-on operational/technical job assignments and opportunities are consciously addressed for promising candidates for future senior management positions. NASA's training philosophy also emphasizes on-the-job work experiences supplemented by classroom instruction, participation in outside academic programs and industry through assignments in such private sector organizations as contractors.

At the agency planning level, the training budget has provided for an increase of 20% for the Office of Space Flight from FY1997 through FY2000. Current agency Program Operating Plan (POP) guidelines call for funding training at 2-3.25% of salary levels, an extremely generous ratio for government and rivaling progressive private sector organizations.

The NASA Academy of Program and Project Leadership (APPL) is building on ten years of educational and developmental activities and is striving to facilitate the flow of current knowledge and techniques to the full engineering and science workforce. APPL is making available information and automated tools on-line and seeking to develop expert systems. APPL is also working directly to support intact teams with information and techniques and attempting to better organize case studies and archives into a more effective knowledge base.

The APPL program is also adding an Accelerated Leadership Option to the Project Management Development Process (PMDP) which will enable NASA engineers to obtain a Master's of Science in Engineering and Management degree from MIT. APPL is continuing and expanding a multifaceted program of classroom work, developmental work assignments, and dissemination of information and guidance. Finally, NASA is well along in an update of its Leadership Development Model; documenting the technical, managerial, and executive competencies required to direct the work of the agency through the foreseeable future. This model will guide the scope and emphasis of training and development programs, including a new approach to succession planning, to ensure that NASA's leaders at all levels have the knowledge and skills to meet their responsibilities.

Applicable NASA Enterprise(s):

  • Human Exploration & Development of Space

Applicable Crosscutting Process(es):

  • Manage Strategically
  • Provide Aerospace Products & Capabilities: Implementation

Additional Key Phrase(s):

  • Administration/Organization
  • Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel
  • Ground Operations
  • Human Resources & Education
  • Policy & Planning
  • Safety & Mission Assurance

Approval Info:

  • Approval Date: 19-dec-2001
  • Approval Name: Bill Loewy
  • Approval Organization: HQ
  • Approval Phone Number: 202-358-0528

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