| How do you reallocate funds
without people feeling like you're taking away "their
money"? If the money is being used efficiently, reallocation
is a moot point; but if efficiency is not the case in
your organization, you've got a corrosive situation that
must be addressed.
At the Kennedy Space Center we needed to find a process
by which all the sacred cows could be identified. Given
the legacy of the organization, it was clear that one
possible solution would be to adopt an "Inclusion Solution"
to the process. That is, have our customers, developers,
and contractors included in the process, so that they
would feel this was not just an exercise to take away
I attempted to do just that in 1999 when I transferred
to the Engineering Development Directorate at KSC. I was
asked to head the Development Project office. I viewed
it as an opportunity to shake up the system -- because,
in my view, this was a system badly in need of shaking
Here's what I'm getting at. Picture this: KSC's career
engineer returns home from work at the end of the day
and is greeted by a spouse who asks, 'So, Honey, what
did you do today?' The engineer replies, 'Oh, it was just
like any other day. I watched.'
Watching, I'm afraid, has become all too commonplace at
KSC. It seems like most of our career engineers are getting
paid to watch contractors do the hands-on engineering
work -- what at one time we were doing in our own labs,
we now are delegating to people outside the agency. Sure
we provide insight, and I don't have any problem with
that,but the future for the career engineer at KSC did
not look very bright in 1999. Many were asking themselves,
"Am I going to become obsolete?"
The situation had to change because for an institution
to survive and flourish, it has to use the talent within
(otherwise you threaten the very existence of the institution).
There were plenty of talented NASA people whose boredom
and frustration would eventually undermine the promise
of what NASA originally meant -- exciting, cutting-edge,
hands-on engineering work. To lose the talent within an
institution like NASA is in essence to kill it. What kind
of institution do you have when there is no institutional
memory? Facilities remain standing, but the lifeblood
inside has been pumped dry.
In my new job, therefore, I considered it the first order
of business to find ways to come up with funding for new
development activities for the career engineers at KSC.
Historically, the Engineering Technology Base (ETB) budget
was used for operational support of core capabilities
as well as program support.
I wanted to use my position to put new projects back in
the hands of our civil servants. I believe the opportunity
to branch out into other projects and research is upon
us, especially as the shuttle program relinquishes more
of the day-to-day processing responsibility to the private
sector, but it is up to us to seize this opportunity while
it lasts. To do so would require looking at all of our
current projects and deciding which ones to jettison to
make room for reinvestment.
My strategy was simple. I needed to convey that diversification
and re-investment did not mean taking away "their money."
Instead, I wanted people to see that this was a realignment
of "our" resources, and this process belonged to all.
Getting them to see this was going to be the tough part.
Naturally, you have to use dialogue -- which isn't easy,
because remember, engineers want solutions, not talk.
months, we dismantled and reassembled the entire
My team consisted of myself and two other KSC veterans,
David Collins and Oscar Toledo. We started by being there
all the time. And we were, ladies and gentleman, until
late at night, every night. You've heard the expression
"Build it and they will come." In our case it was "Open
the door and they will come."
"You can't reallocate this money -- the project
will come to a standstill, we won't be able to launch.
And besides, it's MY money!"
We heard them out to the bitter end. At every opportunity,
we explained why we were doing this. Besides the fact
that we were all going to lose our jobs if we didn't change,
we talked about realigning with our customers' needs,
developing technology to support present and future needs,
providing more opportunities for civil servants to participate
in hands-on development activities. We talked and we talked
until we felt like we had these lines memorized and were
saying them in our sleep.
Another important part of the strategy was to put together
a team that would look at how all project money was being
spent at the center. The team consisted of division chiefs,
project managers, customers, and contractors. We reviewed
all of the projects and found that a number of them were
inactive. The projects were cancelled, or the project
managers were given the chance to reclaim them. Few did,
The process progressed to a line-by-line review of every
project, every budget, and every procurement at the center.
It sounds time consuming, and it is, but this was absolutely
necessary. We brought together the customer, the developer,
and, where applicable, the contractor to have an open
and meaningful discussion about every project, and gave
those with a vital stake in that project a chance to defend
Over several months, we dismantled and reassembled the
entire budget. In order to obtain final buy-in from everyone,
we held a project review with customers, developers and
contractors. We scheduled the meeting at the Beach House
-- a mini-conference center at KSC used by senior management
for retreats -- to make sure that everyone was feeling
good and loose before the fur started flying.
challenge people to change, sometimes the only reaction
you get is a steadfast resistance to change.
It wasn't nearly that bad, however. In fact, it was fun,
it was stimulating, and in the end there were no broken
bones or bloody noses.
Together, we identified ten technical product areas for
investment and partnering with different programs and
private industry. The "my money" attitude had magically
transformed into "our money." And "our money" resulted
in a development budget of $2.2 million in new investments
in applied research and an additional $1 million in laboratory
By creating a process that was driven by inclusion, open
dialogue and clearly defined goals, the team realized
an outcome that managed to overcome deeply entrenched
norms and suspicion. We had to go about it like this because
we were challenging years of tradition, radicalizing a
"business-as-usual" mentality. Not everyone at KSC was
enamored of our work. A significant number of people at
the Center couldn't wait for me to find another job. When
you challenge people to change, sometimes the only reaction
you get is a steadfast resistance to change. But let's
not leave off like this -- for that's only one reading.
The majority of people at our Center, I believe, are much
happier, prouder, and feeling good about their future.
At KSC we now watch a lot less and do a good deal more
of the work we came here for in the first place. For those
of us at KSC who prefer to read the story this way, sharing
risk, responsibilities and ownership has been a tremendous
- Persistence pays off -- if you are not willing to
go ALL the way, you better not start.
- Be inclusive, even if it takes more time. People
will lower their defenses when they know they are
- Put together a team to lead the change. The entire
team must understand the situation and be able to
articulate a unified message.
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Delgado is Division Chief of Process Tools and
Techniques in the Safety, Health and Independent
Assessment Directorate at Kennedy Space Center.
He has received many honors and awards including
the NASA Exceptional Service medal, the Silver Snoopy
Award and various Achievement Awards.