Carlos Torrez, Ames Research Center
Transfer Wisdom Workshop November 7, 2001
was under a hiring freeze and our workload was increasing.
We had one person on staff who was rarely assigned work
on high-profile projects because he was thought to be
non-productive. I decided that it was time to bring
this person out of mediocrity and into productive mode.
I believe that all people want to do well and want
to succeed. I approached my manager with my thoughts
about this. He laughed and said, "He doesn't have what
it takes and won't change." I pointed out that if we
did nothing, the workload would continue to rest on
a few people and our best workers were likely to experience
some form of burnout. I proposed that I become a mentor
to this person.
I began by explaining that I wanted him to succeed. I
spent a lot of time listening. Soon his work output and
confidence began to improve. He came by and asked frequent
questions and proposed possible solutions. This "problem
employee" often solved his own problems as he spoke. By
giving him the encouragement to extend himself and trust
his judgment he seemed to blossom. He even went to my
supervisor and asked for more challenging work!
|I told him,
"All I did was put him in touch with his own potential."
My supervisor came by, excited, and said he had noticed
changes and wanted to thank me for doing such a fine
job being a mentor. I told him, "All I did was put him
in touch with his own potential. He did all the rest."
I learned much from this experience: Do not judge.
Take time to know people and their dreams and goals.
Listening is often more important than talking.
Trusting the Enemy
Terri Rodgers, John Glenn Research Center
Transfer Wisdom Workshop May 2, 2002
The opportunity to manage a flight project came up
and I was eager to see what that world was like—to
actually see hardware fly. The only catch was that the
opening occurred because the current project manager
wanted out. It was too much work on top of his other
workload, and the project scientist was driving him
Sure enough, as soon as I took the job, the project scientist
started complaining all the way up to his management chain.
We would be in a meeting and have to step outside to argue
over some disagreement. Finally I decided, "If you can't
beat 'em, join 'em." I started to listen closely to his
concerns and realized that some were valid. I also started
to recognize his strengths, and I capitalized on them.
He was quite articulate and he was willing to share his
ideas with an audience. I asked him to present a few charts
at our monthly presentation to management. I also included
him on the telecoms with our payload support managers
at Marshall Space Flight Center and Johnson Space Center.
These simple things gave him more insight into what was
going on with the project, and they cost me nothing.
things gave him more insight into what was going
on with the project, and they cost me nothing.
The project moved along and before too long our hardware
was tested and ready to fly. It was time to present
our work to management during a two-day review. The
project scientist faded into the background because
he trusted me to do my job. The first part went fine.
I went home Friday evening, thinking about what I would
say on Monday. But things didn't work out the way I
planned. I was eight months pregnant, and I went into
premature labor. I called work to say that I wouldn't
be in on Monday.
When Monday came, the project scientist did a wonderful
job presenting my charts—but not before praising
me for the job I had done. This from a person who looked
more like an enemy than a friend when I first met him.
You can go far when you reach out to "enemies" and listen.
Get in Bed
Jon Bauschlicher, Kennedy Space Center
Transfer Wisdom Workshop January 23, 2003
During a long and checkered professional career, I
was taught to "never get in bed with the customer."
While working for the government (NASA and US Air Force),
"getting in bed" with the customer/supplier would, at
worst, compromise your objectivity and result in a conflict
of interest, and, at best, give the appearance of impropriety.
While working in private industry, we were told that
"getting in bed" with the customer/supplier would reveal
minor flaws in your product or process that the customer
didn't really need to know about. We were told that
the customer would nitpick you to death with questions
and concerns that weren't important, and that decision-making
would be delayed by bringing someone else into the decision
making process. We were told that proprietary products
or design processes would be revealed to someone without
One project changed my feelings about all that. Project
KAFFU (Kiwi Air Force Fighter Upgrade) was a fighter
retrofit program for the Royal New Zealand Air Force;
we were trying to give F-16 capabilities to old A-4
fighter aircraft. When the contractor I was working
for won the competition, the contract included sharing
office space with the Royal New Zealand Air Force engineers,
pilots, and maintainers throughout the entire development,
prototype, and flight test effort—cradle-to-grave,
as far as the engineering effort was concerned.
We sat side-by-side with these guys. They participated
in every facet of the engineering development program.
They helped write requirements, software, drawings, specifications,
test plans, test procedures and test reports. They worked
in the lab integrating and testing hardware and software.
They knew how things worked, and they saw things fail.
They saw smart and dumb engineers and managers. They worked
and played with all of us. Aside from a few classified
areas, they had full access to our entire facility—our
engineering labs, work areas and our cafeteria.
truly, fully integrated into our engineering team.
They were truly, fully, integrated into our engineering
team. And the results?
We had product advocates (the Royal New Zealand Air
Force engineers) who were trusted by both the customer
(the Royal New Zealand Air Force) and the supplier (us).
With less engineering work for us, we produced a product
that more fully addressed our customer's needs and requirements.
It was a better product—more capable and user-oriented—than
we would have produced without the active participation
of the customer's engineers, operators, and maintainers.
And, in the end, we had a well-informed, well-educated
customer expert in our system's uses and capabilities.
Overall, the results from "getting in bed" with the customer
were nothing like I had been taught they would be. Nothing
but good came from the effort, and both customer and supplier
benefited—the ultimate win/win situation.