The Jet Propulsion Laboratory: Risk-Management Processes

Should Gentry Lee Recommend Launch or Delay for the MBE Mission? What Are the Most Important Factors to Consider in This Decision?

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is an American space agency managed by the California Institute of Technology as a contractor of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Gentry Lee, as a senior system engineer, faced several obstacles, dealing with the Mars Biological Explorer (MBE) program. When deciding on whether to launch or delay the MBE mission, three factors need to be considered and estimated.

NASA is a reputable agency with decades of experience in space technology research and development. However, according to Kaplan and Mikes, projects under the agency “experienced several tragic failures” in the past (1). There were programs, deficiencies, and a lack of budget control of which led to a waste of billions of dollars. Therefore, the first factor is history, from which the lessons can be learned. Second, it is clear that a delay, as well as a launch, will require extra funding. The delay is needed for fixing mistakes and defaults, necessitating spending money on new tiger teams and outside experts. Thus, the budget and the availability of funds is the next element. Lastly, the name of NASA and JPL is at a stake because of the large sum of taxpayers’ money involved. Hence, the agency’s reputation is the third factor, which can affect prospective money for future missions. Thereupon, it is recommended for Gentry Lee to delay the MBE mission concerning the factors discussed.

Identify the Principal Risk-Management Processes Used in the MBE Project. What Role Does Each Play, and What Is Critical for Its Success?

Under Gentry Lee’s guidance, the MBE project experienced changes regarding the new risk-management culture. The risk review board, comprising of “experienced and respected technical experts,” was supposed to conduct three critical meetings during the project development (4). The first process is called Preliminary Mission and Systems Review (PMSR), followed by the Critical Review Design (CDR), and closing with the Critical Events Readiness Review (CERR). These meetings were meant to ensure success and reduce the risks of the mission.

PMSR played a crucial role in the understanding of the issues arising during the implementation and the mission itself. The review board identified six critical risks, which gave an overall impression of the mission’s state. The process of estimating the risks is pivotal for the mission’s success since it can be potentially subjective. Next, the CDR meeting’s part was vital to the project as it included the “validation and verification” element (9). The team needed to prove that everything was in order, ensuring that all future production of the craft would not go in the wrong direction. The outcome depended on the further estimation of the six risks, understanding the areas of concern. The CERR gathering’s significance laid in its contribution to mitigating the risks by revisiting and reassessing the most hazardous issues. The review board had a chance to reflect on the situation, weighing the cost of delay and launch. It was critical to collect new data and estimate the funds available for the tiger teams. Thus, all of the meetings had an impact on the mission’s outcomes.

Consider the Role of JPL’s Senior Systems Engineer, Gentry Lee. What Challenges Did He Face When Implementing the Risk Management Process at JPL? What Characteristics Seem Critical for His Success?

JPL is obliged to be grateful to Gentry Lee for his role in the MBE mission concerning the new risk-management system. First of all, by creating the list of risks according to each craft component, Lee established the discipline of consistent meetings and evaluation of the state of the project. Gentry Lee incorporated an entire system that can be used after his retirement. JPL employees may proceed with the exploitation of the “intellectual confrontation” ideology to view their projects from different perspectives (3). It is hard to imagine what would happen to the MBE mission without Lee’s directions on where changes needed to be made, mistakes fixed, and risks mitigated. Hence, Gentry Lee made a substantial contribution to JPL’s working processes and organization.

However, there were difficulties encountered by him during the MBE mission. He stated that “overcoming cultural resistance” posed the major problem (3). To be more precise, he believed that JPL staff, being the graduates from top universities, would find it hard to accept the criticism from his side. What is more, Lee’s meeting included harsh arguments on whether the program contained defaults. To successfully conduct a meeting and obtain the results from it, a leader must possess a set of characteristics. The prosperity of the management secures the quality of persistence and tenacity. Gentry Lee did not stop the meetings schedule or postpone them due to the existing issues and circumstances. The scrutiny of the problems investigation and thoroughness of the detailed reports deserve to be counted to his success. Finally, when choosing between launch and delay, he maintained the composure to evaluate the situation. Thereby, it can be noted that despite the obstacles, Gentry Lee’s qualities of character helped him to achieve success.

Do the New Risk Management Processes Match JPL’s Strategy and Culture?

The strategy of JPL is to thrive for continuous advancement and space exploration. It can be said that Lee’s risk-management processes facilitate further development of the planetary programs and help to navigate the manufacturing procedures. On the other hand, JPL’s previous management conducted those processes close to the preview date, when it could be too late to make alterations. Lee’s meetings were regular, ensuring that the project team performed efficiently, risks were diminished, and new problem areas were recognized. Therefore, the brand-new risk-management scheme matches the agency’s strategies while having deviations from its cultural features.

Work Cited

Kaplan, Robert, and Anette Mikes. Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Harvard Business School, 2010.

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