Unmanned Space Project Management: Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter|
Chapter 3 - Summary
THE following summary represents the principal findings emerging from the analysis of the management of the two projects.
The environment in which a project operates is not separable from the project but an integral part of it. Ability to understand and operate under changing environmental factors is a critical element of project management. Managers at all organizations involved in a project must be highly sensitive to environmental factors and able to adapt to the fast pace of environmental change. Within their respective organizations, project managers must make correct judgments on such delicate questions as when to work through the established chain of command and when to go outside channels for specific objectives.
The choice of individuals to head programs or projects is of critical importance. Individual managers serve as the principal conduits of previ-ous learning experience. It is difficult to specify precisely the types of qualifications that are most important in the makeup of individual mana-gers. Differing types of management styles can work equally well in direct-ing a project team. However, both the Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter experiences, from two very different angles, strongly underline the importance of human skills, interpersonal compatibility, and relationships based on mutual respect and confidence. Project organization places a premium on top-level leadership. But there is also a premium on reciprocation of trust both vertically and laterally throughout the organization.
Teamwork is a vital ingredient in the conduct of programs and projects. Lunar Orbiter benefited from a strong sense of teamwork within both the customer and contractor organizations and in their relations with each other. Surveyor was handicapped by the lack of an equivalent sense of teamwork, particularly in the early years of the program. Senior management was committed to full support of the Lunar Orbiter project and was personally involved in overall direction at both the NASA field center and in the prime contractor's organization. There was far less support and involvement in the case of Surveyor.
Although clear definition of the respective roles and missions of organizations participating in a given undertaking is conducive to smooth operation, it is not likely that such roles and missions will remain constant or static. Good project management will be responsive to the need for some latitude in modifying roles and missions and supplementing prescribed formal relationships by informal links.
The Lunar Orbiter experience bears out the positive value of commitment throughout all organizations involved in a project to fulfilling objectives within a set time and specified resource limits. Lunar Orbiter managers were dedicated to building and flying the original hardware design while restricting change to the minimum. The Surveyor and Centaur experiences, conversely, illustrate that if you do not control change, you can expect schedule delays and cost escalation.
The Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter undertakings with project type organizations, although they were very different, both bear out the importance of the right mix of managerial and technical competence at top project management levels. Each experience confirms the importance of adequate support from the matrix organization within which the project operates. Locating project staff together in a central facility proved to be highly beneficial from the outset in the Lunar Orbiter offices at Langley Research Center and the Boeing Co. Similar benefits were derived when Surveyor project offices were collocated at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Hughes Aircraft Co.
A strong systems management capability at the top levels of a project office is a critical element of project staffing. Those who manage a project need the kind of understanding and perspective that permits them to see the interrelationships between the various elements of a project and the impact that change in one system has on other systems.
Careful consideration should be given at the outset of a technical development undertaking to the adoption of workable management systems based on a well-defined work breakdown structure mutually agreed upon between the customer and the contractor. The customer should not impose systems that are beyond the ability of a contractor to follow. Care should be taken to avoid unnecessary redundancy. Although effective reliability and failure reporting systems are important, no formal communications systems will replace the dynamic system of personal and informal relations between key members of a project team.
Relatively few NASA projects have been subject to the depth of Headquarters intervention that was felt necessary in Surveyor and Centaur to resolve problems encountered in those two related undertakings. In both cases, Headquarters decisions contributed to many of the basic difficulties that had to be overcome, and therefore only Headquarters intervention could have effected the necessary redirection of the projects. The Lunar Orbiter experience, on the other hand, demonstrated how well the NASA Headquarters-field center-contractor relationship can work under the most favorable circumstances.
Both Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter contracting broke new ground for NASA in experimenting with contract incentives. Administration of the Surveyor contract was greatly complicated by the many changes in the scope of the project and specific missions assigned to the spacecraft. Converting the contract from a cost-plus-fixed-fee to a cost-plus-incentive-fee basis at a late date in the project, although it involved a massive conversion effort, greatly facilitated effective administration of the contract. The Lunar Orbiter contract was the first major NASA flight project contract to be awarded on an incentive basis. It gave the agency some useful insights on the merits as well as the limitations of this type of contract.
Total Surveyor project costs finally came to about four times the original estimate while the Lunar Orbiter final costs were about twice the initial projection. Surveyor took two years longer to complete than originally planned, whereas Lunar Orbiter was completed within two months of schedule. The wide differences in the environments surrounding the two projects and the much more difficult technical challenge involved in Surveyor account for much of the difference in cost performance.
NASA Headquarters allowed the Surveyor science payload to be subject to major change in composition and configuration until a late state in the project. This caused problems for the Jet Propulsion Labora-tory and Hughes Aircraft Co. Scientists and engineers were intentionally kept at arms length from each other in the early stages of Surveyor. When, later, they formed closer working relationships, they had more success in finding solutions to problems in science experiment design. Lunar Orbiter, as an Apollo-support project, involved relatively little science except that which was added on the last two flights. There was therefore far less potential for trouble in the science/engineering interface.