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Aeronautics Innovation: NASA’s Challenges and Opportunities
aviation operations—are arguably the areas in which users need fairly well-proven technologies to be delivered and in which NASA’s technical capabilities are in some respects superior. In all likelihood, ARMD will continue to have a portfolio quite diversified in terms of the stage of technology development being pursued. If it does not, the program could rather quickly lose its relevance and much of its support. That, in any case, is our premise. We further assume progress in articulating a mission reflecting financial realities, stakeholder needs, and NASA personnel and contractor capabilities and research infrastructure.
In this chapter we consider a variety of decision-making processes, tools, and incentive structures that will aid the process and enhance the prospects of innovation in the remaining portfolio. These include cohesive portfolio planning, engagement of stakeholders in the prioritization process, preidentifying the stages of and criteria for resource allocation and project continuation or termination decisions (“decision gates”), and planning for technology transitioning. In addition, we outline a number of personnel and financial management practices that can contribute to innovation.
Those tools might broadly be conceived as process discipline. Fundamental to keeping an organization on a path of relevant accomplishment is a set of tools that accelerate decision making. Quite the opposite of constraining an organization in bureaucracy, process tools and discipline help accelerate results and aid in decision making by clarifying expectations among customers, leadership, and development teams. These tools provide an expectation that mechanisms and metrics need to be developed to keep innovation relevant in terms of the values it can provide. These tools also help clarify schedules and timelines. Notions that innovation cannot be scheduled, that invention has to happen on its own pace, contribute to ignoring customer needs and, on the part of the innovator, diminished expectations of creating value.
In recommending these tools, the committee recognizes that there are important differences between public agencies and private firms, for example in their ability to focus resources narrowly, to reallocate funds, and to change or transfer personnel. We do not thoughtlessly recommend practices that are appropriate solely for private firms but are inappropriate and impossible for ARMD to implement. In fact, a number of the practices that we think NASA should consider are ones that derive from public-sector experience, including that of NASA.
At the same time, the composition of our committee does not reflect sufficiently broad NASA experience to anticipate all of the challenges that