| After a long day of travel,
I found myself in a hotel elevator. I had recently graduated
from NASA's Accelerated Learning Option (ALO) at MIT,
and I was proudly wearing my new school T shirt and baseball
hat. Another man got on the elevator, turned to me and
asked, "When did you get your brass rat?" I understood
the reference to the school's mascot, and I told my elevator
companion that I had just graduated in 2002. Then the
elevator door opened and we parted ways.
Two days later, the same gentleman approached me,
mentioned MIT and then asked where I worked. I responded
proudly, "NASA -- Stennis Space Center." After twenty
years of NASA service, I was prepared to respond to
what usually came next: "Where is Stennis? What do you
do? It must be great to work for NASA." That was not
the case this time.
The conversation turned immediately into an attack
on NASA. "The Agency," the man told me, "is a waste
of tax dollars. It should be disbanded and turned over
to the private sector." He was very upset that NASA
hasn't reduced the cost of getting payloads into orbit
in order to make feasible the commercialization of space.
He demanded to know why NASA hasn't made space tourism
I gave my tried-and-true response: "NASA's missions return
great value because they help improve life here on earth."
But this time, my response fell on deaf ears; the man
was clearly angry that NASA hasn't opened space to the
public. In the past, I might have continued to try to
give an easy answer, blaming Congress or something like
that. But since entering the ALO program, I've come to
accept that providing easy answers rarely answers the
we in NASA are so close to the effort that we lose
sight of the true value of our work and how important
it is for each one of us to be able to explain that
value confidently and with conviction.
I gave his questions more thought, analyzing them
the way I had learned to during my tenure at MIT. I
then posed a question to him: "If you expect NASA to
commercialize space, have you considered how value is
derived from the process?" I explained that the commercialization
of space is a function of reducing the cost of getting
payloads to orbit via new launch vehicle architectures.
Little of this made sense to the businessman with whom
I was speaking, until I restated this position in economic
terms: markets, profits, value, and customer. I won't
go into the details of the discussion that ensued, but
I will say that it could never have taken place before
I attended ALO.
Sometimes, we in NASA are so close to the effort that
we lose sight of the true value of our work and how important
it is for each one of us to be able to explain that value
confidently and with conviction. Since completing the
ALO program, I have given my work more thought, and have
realized that it's not enough that we do our best here
at NASA to deliver cost-effective, high quality services.
We need to focus our cost effectiveness and quality efforts
on the things that matter to the customer. Yes, we need
to deliver technically accurate services on time and within
budget, but we also need to consider the big picture of
value delivery, we need to address how specific stakeholders
view value, and we need to concentrate our efforts where
we add value for our stakeholders.
|We need to
focus our cost effectiveness and quality efforts
on the things that matter to the customer.
That broader view, I would argue, is just the beginning
of the return on NASA's investment in me.
| The Accelerating
Leadership Option (ALO) combines business management
and systems engineering studies at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT), culminating in a
Master of Science degree, with a one-year developmental
assignment. But the real result of ALO is a dynamic
group of leaders who will shape the future of NASA
and its impact on the world.
The ALO program accelerates the development
process of exceptionally promising NASA project
leaders to positions of increased responsibility.
Participants in the elite program are selected
because of their technical expertise and proven
leadership abilities. Through ALO, APPL provides
an opportunity for these midlevel project managers
to learn with the best and from the best.
The first ALO class entered the program in 2000.
In addition to earning their MIT degrees, recent
participants have completed developmental activities
with IBM, Raytheon Corporation, EMC Corporation,
Aerospace Corporation, National Reconnaissance
Office, NASA Headquarters Office of Earth Science,
NASA Headquarters Office of Aerospace Technology,
and the International Space Station Program Office.
The goal of this phase of the program is to arrange
an assignment that is centrally involved with
the mission of the participant's home center,
and that takes advantage of the graduate's training
while providing new challenges.
Following center and agency approval, applicants
must be accepted by both the ALO program and MIT's
graduate school. APPL provides the funding for
participants' academic expenses, and centers support
the developmental assignments.