To launch the Shuttle replacement Orion by 2015, NASA is getting project management training from Georgia Tech. Helping complete the International Space Station is also a goal.
Astronaut Bill McArthur (left), who earned his master's in systems engineering at Tech, believes the project management training is improving his performance as manager of mission and safety assurance.
Developing a brand-new spacecraft capable of taking humans into orbit is no easy task. That kind of multi-year, multi-billion dollar undertaking requires an immense amount of project management expertise, says Ellen Ochoa, deputy director of NASA's Johnson Space Center.
So that's why NASA has turned to Georgia Tech College of Management's Huang Executive Education Center for customized training in Program/Project Management Development.
The agency seeks to successfully navigate an era of change ushered in by the Space Shuttle's planned retirement in 2010. Now developing Orion as a Shuttle replacement, the agency's Constellation Program Office plans to launch a manned expedition in the new vehicle by 2015 and return to the Moon by 2020 to establish a sustained human presence there. Human and robotic missions to Mars are also in the agency's long-range plans.
Back to the Drawing Board
Since the Space Shuttle first launched in 1981, NASA has focused heavily on operations to ensure safe missions, Ochoa explains. "Now we're involved in much more development work than we have been in years," she says. "That's our motivation for significantly stepping up in the program and project management areas."
Extending NASA's reach deeper into space depends on their efficiency, Ochoa says. "If you're running a large program or project, you've got to deliver on schedule and on cost while mitigating risk," she adds.
Down to Business
Coordinated by the Universities Space Research Association and started in June 2007, Tech's customized training program for NASA includes a total of 15 days of coursework, broken into five three-day modules over a year and a half.
In December 2008, approximately 25 of NASA's key engineers, scientists, technologists, and astronauts will graduate, having completed training modules on leadership, project management, vendor and contractor relationships, financial and risk management, and systems engineering.
Most of the NASA leaders receiving the training rose into management by way of engineering. While they're highly accomplished in their fields, they don't have much educational background in business for the most part.
"Everybody in the program is at a high level and some have led programs budgeted at more than a billion dollars," Ochoa says.
She is pleased that all participants have reported a high level of satisfaction with the training, saying that they've learned a lot — even those with years of experience in program/project management. "Several people who've been with NASA for more than 20 years said it's been the best training they've received since joining the agency," Ochoa says.
To win the opportunity to develop this customized training program for NASA, Georgia Tech competed against some of the top business schools in the country, notes Goutam Challagalla, associate dean for executive education at the College.
What set Georgia Tech's proposal apart from the rest, he says, was the school's innovative interdisciplinary approach, involving participation from the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
"There are only a handful of business schools that could come close to pulling off something like this," Challagalla says. "This opportunity really played to our strengths because we've positioned our College at the interface of technology and management."
Also attractive to NASA was Georgia Tech's recruitment of master project managers from General Electric to serve as industry experts and help teach the modules with the university's professors. "Our strong relationship with GE enabled us to involve their managers," Challagalla says.
Georgia Tech is helping NASA to see through new eyes, incorporating industry and research perspectives on various ways to run projects, Challagalla explains.
"The folks at NASA are really proud of how much they've accomplished, but they want to achieve even greater things," he says. "They love to learn, and they are hungry to get even better."
Management faculty members teaching in the Program/Project Management Development course have included organizational behavior associate professor Luis Martins, operations management associate professor Stelios Kavadias, organizational behavior associate professor Dennis Nagao, and organizational behavior professor emeritus David Herold, as well as Six Sigma/ LEAN instructor Lee Campe.
Tom McDermott, deputy director of research at GTRI, and senior GTRI research engineer Carlee Bishop spearheaded development of the module in systems engineering.
"We are pleased to bring the systems engineering and management experience of the Georgia Tech Research Institute into this partnership with NASA," says Stephen Cross, vice president of GTRI.
When experienced astronaut Bill McArthur learned that Georgia Tech would be providing the management training for NASA, he says he was thrilled.
Of course, he already had a strong personal connection to the Institute. McArthur, who serves as manager of Safety and Mission Assurance for the Space Shuttle Program, earned his master's in systems engineering from Tech in 1983.
McArthur, who's spent nearly 225 days in space flying on Shuttle missions and living in the International Space Station, looks forward to spending a few days on campus during the final module in December 2008. The first four modules were held at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
While he's received an immense amount of technical training through the years, McArthur has had less exposure to business management. So he's found the Program/Project Management Development course to be very valuable, especially in the areas of finance and operations.
"We've enjoyed some success over the years at developing managers in-house," McArthur says. "But we wanted a more methodical program in which we not only develop future project managers, but also ensure that we have senior managers in all areas who well understand project management."
Michael Mankin, who earned his BS in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech in 1987, was pleased to win admittance into the Program/Project Management Development course offered by the College.
Acceptance was a competitive process, with most participants having at least 10 to 15 years of experience at NASA, he notes. With 17 years at NASA, Mankin is now deputy of the Extra Vehicular Activity Office, which manages everything related to space suits and space walks.
"The coursework for all the modules has been great, refreshing me on a lot of concepts," he says. "It reminds you what you're supposed to do and how to do it. I think it's helping me do my job better."
The training wasn't limited to leadership at Johnson Space Center. Participants also work at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Langley Research Center, Glenn Research Center, and other areas. "In the future, we hope to include more participation across the entire agency," Ochoa says.
Made to Order
NASA has joined a growing list of organizations that benefit greatly from Georgia Tech's ability to tailor-make leadership development programs to meet their particular needs.
Under the leadership of Goutam Challagalla, who became associate dean for executive education last fall, the Huang Executive Education Center accomplished a record-breaking year in revenue generation from its customized programs in 2007-08.
Challagalla says the College is uniquely qualified to customize programs for clients like NASA who need to bridge the worlds of business and technology, thanks to the varied high-tech expertise available throughout Georgia Tech. "We play to our strengths when we integrate across campus," he notes. "That is our sweet spot. We do this kind of interdisciplinary work better than anybody."
For example, the Program/Project Management Development
training for NASA involved engineering areas on campus. And the College of Management recruited the School of Public Policy and Strategic Energy Institute to collaborate on the customized course Business Strategy for the Energy Industry
for General Electric.
GE employees in that training program rated it an average of 9.3 on a 10-point scale.
Having built a strong relationship with GE in recent years, the College is successfully forming close partnerships with other leading companies in the area such as Turner Broadcasting System.
These partnerships are drawing more professionals not only to public and customized non-degree programs, but also to the College's Executive MBA in Management of Technology and Global Executive MBA programs. For companies sending more than 30 students, the College can even tailor an Executive MBA degree to focus on their particular industry issues. "We go far beyond the traditional MBA," he says.nal MBA," Challagalla says.
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