Letter: Inefficient Organizations

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  Space News Business

Letter: Inefficient Organizations

By MICHAEL WRIGHT

posted: 19 September 2005
01:16 pm ET


I found it interesting, but not surprising, that your article on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) cost-control efforts [“Webb Telescope Cost-Control Effort Focuses On Schedule, Requirements, Aug. 22, page 1] only mentioned technical design and schedule modifications that the agency is considering to help the project get “back in the box.” Missing from the assessment were any improvements to address potential organizational inefficiencies.

For example, part of NASA’s answer to improved communications since the Columbia accident has been more reviews at all levels of management. While this may improve information transfer to a certain extent, it was clear from the Columbia Accident Investigation Board’s report that meetings and reviews do not necessarily translate to improved organizational communication.

The amount of human resources required to support such reviews are usually deceivingly expensive, if one totals the salaries and any travel for meeting participants. In NASA’s new full-cost world, these costs are impacting organizations more directly than ever before.

Further, organizational structures themselves also can have a huge impact on project costs. In the case of JWST, having multiple centers and agencies involved (as is typical for most large NASA projects) means more management, more reviews, more travel and usually more unique documentation requirements that have to be met by budget-constrained projects.

There are several other large projects currently under development at NASA that are in the same boat as JWST. These projects are funded with leaner full-costed budgets, yet are having to meet more resource-intensive management and organizational requirements.

All of these factors should be reassessed by projects that are finding it difficult to meet their budgets by only descoping [reducing] their science and technical requirements, while ignoring the cost impacts of their organizational inefficiencies.

Michael Wright

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Greenbelt, Md.