Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Freedom's Just Another Word...

The Emperor, who had previously only held sway over small inconsequential dominions, now finds himself directing a $17B enterprise for which he is ill-prepared to lead. That this is so only became more evident in his recent note to one of his minions, who also finds himself in over his head.

You see, NASA has a guidebook for how to run programs. Like all heavy NASA documents it is better known by a number rather than a name. 7120.5. Now in its fourth revision, it is an oxymoronic document. If NASA had good managers, they wouldn't need a handbook. For the managers that they have, a handbook won't really do them any good.

And now we find out that if the handbook gets in the way, it is time to throw it away.

From the Emperor's quill: "The institution devises and imposes standards and processes solely for the purpose of aiding programs to be successful, not as a matter of doctrinaire adherence to a standard of 'technical purity.' There is no such thing as a 'successful' independent review board, or a 'successful' NASA, without a successful Cx. If 7120.5D does not serve Cx well, meaning help produce a good outcome, it is the document that will be revised, not Cx."

Put another way, if anything representing good management principles should get in the way of executing a NASA program it is OK to ignore the offending barrier. When there are no immutable requirements, no processes immune to being jettisoned, no metrics by which to judge success, no calendar to adhere to, it becomes easy for failure to stay disguised for long periods of time. The freedom to manage programs without discipline, making up the rules as you go along, working without guide wires or constraints, usually comes about at the point where you say you have "nothing left to lose."

Janis Joplin would surely be dismayed if she were around today to see such a misappropriation of her prescient words.

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