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Posted by on May 9, 2014

NASA Ups Its Project Planning and Requirements Game

NASAWith a playground as big as the universe, there is no question that NASA has some of the most complex projects in the Federal workspace. And with complex projects comes increased risk, which is why NASA has been making greater strides each year in improving its project planning.

In a new report, published April 15, 2014, the GAO details its annual assessment of NASA’s major projects. GAO has been conducting these assessments for the last five years in response to an explanatory statement of the House Committee on Appropriations accompanying the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act. Some of the findings from this year’s report include:

  • Cost growth and schedule slippage for NASA projects remains low when compared with the past annual assessments
  • NASA increased its rate of maturing technologies prior to the preliminary design review from 29% in 2010 to 63% in 2014
  • NASA has implemented a combination of GAO standards as well as defined its own metrics to enhance the organization’s ability to assess design stability for its projects

These findings show that NASA has put an emphasis on doing good project management work up front in order to have a more successful project overall. This helps to avoid the poor planning sin defined in The 77 Deadly Sins of Project Management.

With poor planning, it may not become apparent until the execution or delivery phase of the project that it has been poorly planned. Project managers must ensure that the scope of the work to be performed and the tasks required are clearly laid out. This upfront planning must be done before work begins in order to avoid costly delays and rework at critical stages later in the project life cycle. By adding multiple checkpoints and more ways to assess design maturity, NASA is strengthening their ability to catch design flaws earlier in the project to lower the risk of expensive rework and schedule outgrowth.

While the report identifies areas and specific projects that still pose risk and require improvement, it is important to note GAO found NASA is making steady progress in key areas. GAO writes, “As NASA continues to undertake more complex projects, it will be important to maintain heightened attention to best practices to lessen the risk of technology development and continue positive cost and schedule performance.” In other words, with NASA’s increasing emphasis on better project planning, they are well on their way to stronger project management practices in accordance with carefully developed schedules and budgets.

To learn more about how to avoid poor planning and poor requirements, check out the complete book The 77 Deadly Sins of Project Management from Management Concepts Press.

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