BOX 4.1

Common Factors Contributing to the Success or Failure of NASA Programs

Factors contributing to program failures or significant cost growth (from investigations)

  • Inadequate requirements management

  • Convoluted board/panel processes

  • Poor systems engineering processes

  • Inadequate reviews/oversight

  • Inadequate heritage design analyses in early phases

  • Inadequate systems engineering and integration expertise

  • Inadequate testing/interpretation of test data

  • Inadequate systems-level risk management

Contributing factors associated with successful programs (from organizational literature)

  • Rigorous requirements management

  • Rigorous interface control/streamlined boards and panels

  • Rigorous systems engineering processes/reviews

  • Strong government/contractor teaming

  • Experienced personnel

  • Thorough testing

  • Systems level approach throughout program levels

  • Rigorous risk management

SOURCE: Adapted from NASA, Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation, Systems Engineering and Institutional Transitions Study, Final Report, April 5, 2006.

In considering whether NASA also faces a requirement for highly skilled systems engineering and program/ project management personnel in its robotic spaceflight program, the committee found that a steady succession of robotic programs has provided opportunities for sustaining a base of expertise in NASA and industry in robotic spaceflight. Nevertheless, given the concerns it heard expressed within NASA, academia, and industry about the amount of experience within the program/project management and systems engineering base in the robotic spaceflight program, the committee concluded that these concerns apply to both the human spacecraft and the robotic spaceflight programs at NASA.6

The committee struggled with the question of whether the requirement for 250-350 highly skilled program/ project managers and systems and integration engineers in the short term constituted a shortfall in NASA’s workforce. The problem for the committee was that the numbers presented by NASA in its Workforce Strategy did not indicate the amount of experience desired by the agency for each of the positions.


To gain a perspective on this issue, the committee sought input from an industry consortium. A sampling of representatives of 25 member companies of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) expressed specific concerns regarding NASA’s systems engineering and program management experience, the fact that many NASA engineers


For example, the 2006 NRC report Assessment of Balance in NASA’s Science Programs (The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.) made a major point about problems with program execution in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and attributed these problems, in part, to the adequacy of staff.

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