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6 The Path Forward The workshopâs final plenary session concluded with a general discussion and then some closing thoughts from Douglas Terrier, NASAâs chief technologist. The comments from both the discussants and Terrier ranged widely, but most addressed one of two broad questions: âWhat have we learned from this workshop?â and âWhere do we go from here?â COMMON THEMES In the general discussion section of the afternoon plenary, workshop participants commented on what they saw as some of the most valuable lessons from the workshop as well as on common themes that they had seen emerge over the 2 days. Putting the workshop in context, one participant identified the changing environment in which NASA operates as a major theme. âThe marketplace in which we get our business done has changed,â he said. âAll of the groups [in the various breakout sections] had a very similar construct: We have to do business a little bit differently. We have to develop the skill sets of NASA differently. I think thatâs incredibly important.â Perhaps the theme that got the most discussion during the plenary was the need forâand the difficulty ofâkilling off bad projects. One NASA participant specifically called for the agency to consciously develop the âkill, celebrate, reallocateâ decision philosophy. âI think thatâs something that we need to take action on as an organization, as a leadership group,â he said. Another commented that much of the inertia that keeps bad projects going has its roots in the people involved and their interests and concerns. âThat [killing underperforming projects] is really hard work,â he said, âbecause not everybody is fungible and you do have people that are parked for a little while.â Therefore there are almost always stakeholdersâand not just those in NASA, but those outside the agency as wellâwho resist the closing out of a project. But, he continued, âthe bad idea or the thing that you shouldnât be doing is usually blocking something good that you should be doing. Thereâs a surplus of ideas.â So it is important to clear out the bad projects so better ones can take their place. A participant noted that the difficulty in killing bad projects makes it particularly important to have a pipeline of good ideas waiting in the wings. âGenerating enough back pressure in the system so that it makes those decisions easier is absolutely critical.â If there is a steady stream of âgreat ideas that make the team salivate that they want to work on the next thing,â then that makes it much easier to give up that âpet project or the sacred project for the organization.â Another participant tied the idea of killing projects with a second theme, which was redefining the idea of what failure is. Any innovation organization faces the dilemma that most innovative experiments are going to fail, he said, and he mentioned the comment by Fred Kennedy of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that only about 10 percent of what DARPA funds transitions to operations. Thus, if NASA is going to continue to be an innovative organization, it will need to reconcile its âfailure is not an optionâ culture with the reality that a large part of what any innovative organization does fails. âPart of that is the redefining of what failure is,â he said. âIf you really learn lessons [from a âfailureâ] and can pivot and keep going, thatâs a good thing.â Whatever it is called, he PREPUBLICATION COPY â SUBJECT TO FURTHER EDITORIAL CORRECTION 6-1
saidâkill, celebrate, reallocate, or something elseâNASA has to learn to expect that many projects will fall by the side of the road. âI donât think we have wide acknowledgement of that yet,â he said, âbut weâve at least opened up that conversation and can start making it more explicit.â As a historical note, Teresa Kline, a senior technical project manager at NASA, told a story about the origins of âFailure is not an option.â She had the opportunity a few years ago to sit down with Gene Kranz, who is widely credited with originating the line, but he told her that he had never actually said it. His character in the movie Apollo 13, who is played by Ed Harris, did say âFailure is not an optionâ in one of the most dramatic scenes in the movie, but those were the words of the screenwriters. Later, Kranz published a book with that title, after the line was famous because of the movie. Kranz told her, Kline said, that the line does capture the emotion at the time: âThey had lives on the line, and the intent was, weâve got to bring these guys home and thereâs no way that weâre not doing that,â she said. âBut he said he regrets using that as the title to his bookâ because it has had such a profound effect on the NASA culture. âSo maybe,â Kline said, âthis is something we and NASA want to think about: Failure is not an option when lives are on the line. Failure is absolutely an option in the lab.â On a related topic, another participant said that it will be important to change the culture and the processes so that people who work on âfailuresâ are not labeled as being unsuccessful if the work was actually done well. âYou want to reward people that took that risk and it just turned out the physics or whatever was not viable,â he said. Another major theme was the importance of attracting, developing, and retaining effective innovators. One participant supported the idea that true innovators make up only about 4 percent of the population. âI think thatâs a very true statement,â he said. âThereâs not a lot of people out there who actually do this.â So the first step is to find them and hire them, and the speaker agreed that âHire rebelsâ is good advice, adding that these innovators need to be accompanied by âa few enlightened helpers.â Once they have been hired, they should be collected in one placeâwhat some people had called a âsafe space.â âI donât like that term myself,â the speaker said, âbut I get the idea. I think you have to collect them all in one place and they can feed off each otherâs energy. You have to imbue them with a sense of mission and overwhelming urgency. You have to keep the bureaucracy off their backs. And then finallyâI really think is importantâyou give them a stingy budget. The last thing you want to do is give an innovator too much money. Theyâll go nuts, and they probably wonât deliver.â Another participant agreed that building an environment that supports and encourages innovation is vital to NASAâs success. âThat gets down to very tactical things about how to manage that from a workforce perspective,â he said. âHow do we let our folks engage in that activity? How do we reward it? How do we encourage it? I think thatâs really important.â There was a brief discussion of whom should be considered âinnovators,â with one participant arguing that there are many people other than those on the technological cutting edge who should be considered innovatorsâthose who come up with valuable new training processes, for example, or new, more effective ways to communicate. Another participant said he understood the importance of innovations in contracting and legal issues and so forth. âBut the truth is,â he said, âIâm not looking for innovative contracting. Iâm not looking for innovative legal means. You can call it that if you want. But what Iâm looking for is innovative systems technology capability.â He said he has no problems with using the term âinnovativeâ to describe inventive people in these other areas, but they are not who will be driving NASA forward in the future. Janice Fraser offered two bits of advice for any organization working to improve their innovation capabilities, one of them long term and the other intermediate term. The long-term suggestion was that it is important to provide the necessary resources for a change effort. âIâve been working with Procter and Gamble for a long time,â she said, âand over the 3 years or so that theyâve been doing this work, theyâve gone from having one or two people working on it mostly full time to having a staff of I think about 10 people.â And, similarly, the amount of work involved in the effort has grown exponentially. So it is important to keep in mind, she said, that youâre on a 10-year journey. Youâre not on a 2-year journey. And while it is natural to feel a sense of urgency and want to PREPUBLICATION COPY â SUBJECT TO FURTHER EDITORIAL CORRECTION 6-2
move quickly, people need to be deliberate about it. âThis is a marathon, not a sprint,â she said, âand itâs going to take real resources with real executive access.â The second thing, she said, is something that every leader can do as they conduct their day-to-day business, which is to ask themselves, âIs there any possible way I can say yes to this thing?â In a cautious organizationâwhich NASA obviously has to be, she observedâthe default position is often to say no or to defer a decision or pass it along to someone else. But what if the default position were to say yes whenever it was possible and made sense? âIt would change a lot,â she said. âAnd thatâs not just for senior leaders. . . . It really applies to middle managers, and if senior leaders could get air cover to the middle managers who start saying yes, youâll see your culture change very, very quickly. Because right now, people are probably expecting no every time they ask for something.â Finally, one participant mentioned the need for improved communicationâboth internal and externalâas a theme. In particular, he said, the ability to articulate an answer to the âWhy NASA?â question is incredibly important. The right sort of answer can be inspiration and create a vision that defines what NASA is and where it is going. PLANNING THE NEXT STEPS In the workshopâs final presentation, Terrier discussed the key things he had learned from the workshop and listed several steps that he said he would be taking in the coming months in response to what he heard. âI had high hopes for the workshop, and my hopes have been exceeded,â he said. âIâm really, really impressed and I feel like we can actually take some action on the things that were talked about and move forward.â He referred back to a comment he had heard at the workshop that NASA is not actually a learning organization but rather a listening organizationâits people listen and talk a lot, but donât actually change very many things. âWe want to change that,â he said. âWe want to be intentional about what we take out of here. Thatâs my goal, and thatâs my charter.â Terrier next offered a series of actions that he said he would be started almost immediately. And it would not be just him, he said, but a number of senior leaders. He noted that about half of the NASA centers had been represented at the workshop by senior leadership. âSo when you show up with a senior leadership team to talk about this,â he said, âit wonât be one guy trying to evangelize the room. It will actually be a team spreading the word, and I appreciate that.â The first step, he said, would be to bring the entire senior leadership team together and talk about some of the specific things they need to do as a leadership team. He said it should be possible to do that in the first part of 2019. The first thing the leadership team should do, Terrier said, is carry out a refounding exercise. The term was new for him, he said, and he explained that it would involve discussing how NASA should be set up today if it were starting from scratch, taking into account todayâs innovation ecosystem, supply chains, etc. The point of the exercise would be to use the idea of refounding as a framework for talking about how NASA can do things differently and betterâ how, for instance, NASA might use outside partnerships to take advantage of all of the innovation that is going on outside the agency. And he said that he hoped to be able to bring the senior leadership together for a day or two to take part in that exercise. The second step, Terrier said, would be to find ways to equip the leadership team with the right skill set to execute the sorts of actions that had been talked about at the workshop. The leadership actually does a lot of formal leadership training in things like program management, mentoring, and developing talent, he said, but it does relatively little in areas like design thinking and strategic planning, âand I think those are things we could talk about.â He also suggested that perhaps this could become part of a formal training module that leaders at NASA receive. PREPUBLICATION COPY â SUBJECT TO FURTHER EDITORIAL CORRECTION 6-3
Terrier then spoke of how, when he was at Lockheed Martin and was transferred from advanced development programs into international business development, the company provided him with a great deal of training in business development and business management to get him up to speed for his new role. âHow can we put some of those tools in place?â he asked. Another step that Terrier discussed was the development of a one-page statement of the value proposition underlying NASAâs mission. âIâm going to try to get the team to do that,â he said, âto talk about how we create that communication tool about what our value proposition isâto see if we can do that on a simple one-pager and to be able to tell our stories as a leadership team communicating with the community around us, our stakeholders, and, more importantly, our workforce, so that we can all talk about what weâre trying to change toward, what that outcome is that we want.â And it is not only the leaders who need the right tools, Terrier said, but the innovators as well. Some things are already in place, such as innovation rewards, but NASA needs to strengthen that. âA lot of discussion panels talked about providing innovators with tools, whether itâs through innovation awards or providing the right kinds of challenging hands-on learning projects for early-career folks,â he said. âI think we can do better, not just at consolidating the efforts we have in that arena, maybe providing a little more funding for that, but also in providing more recognition for innovation and rewarding that.â A couple of years back, he said, there was an agency innovation award, he said, and it was a big success. Something like that is important, he said, âjust to hold up folks and say thatâs something we value in the most visible way.â Terrier mentioned the persistent innovator who had spoken in the Leadership Diagnostics breakout session and described choosing to leave NASA because of the difficulties of dealing with the system. There are plenty of things to be passionate about at NASA, he said, but if the burdens outweigh the passion, it doesnât matter. âSo we have to figure out how to get that in order,â he said. He also talked about paying attention to early-career innovators and said that he in particular liked the idea of 80 percent early-career replacementâthat is, 80 percent of people who retire or leave for other reasons should be replaced with early-career hires. âAnd,â he added, âI like the career mentoringâ not just throwing people a bone with money, but making that a real learning opportunity and ensuring that theyâre successful.â Along the same lines, he said, he liked the idea of creating a âStop the Stupidâ award to recognize people who pointed out obvious things that should be changed but never had been. It will also be important, Terrier said, to get away from some of the rigid attitudesââfailure is not an optionâ or âeverythingâs got to be green on the chart, or youâre a bad project manager,â at least when those things are taken to silly extremes. Reiterating the NASA has already been working on ways to improve its environment for innovation, he noted that the leadership has already been working on a NASA Innovation Framework and also a Digital Innovation Portal. âWeâre going to take all the rest of the data and make sure it either fits in with what weâve got in the current set of solutions or find where weâre missing something and then weâve got something to go bounce that off of,â he said. âSo weâve got the right place to sort all this data that weâve taken in, and I feel like weâll be able to do that. I put that as my last item to do in the next few monthsâtake this data, put it in that framework,â and work from there. Terrier ended with a couple of personal observations. âI was one of those kids who saw the Apollo, and itâs really defined my life and motivated me,â he said. âThere are millions of kids in the United States and around the world who need that integration in this generation. We cannot fail.â Finally, he commented on how historic this moment could beâthat what resulted from the workshop and the following months could influence the nationâs spaceflight program and even the entire future trajectory of human spaceflight. âI want to thank you all for being part of that history.â PREPUBLICATION COPY â SUBJECT TO FURTHER EDITORIAL CORRECTION 6-4