NASA:

Better Mechanisms Needed for Sharing Lessons Learned

GAO-02-195: Published: Jan 30, 2002. Publicly Released: Feb 5, 2002.

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) uses several mechanisms to capture and disseminate lessons learned. NASA has established an agency-wide Lessons Learned Information System that managers are required to review on an ongoing basis. NASA uses training, program reviews, and periodic revisions to agency policies and guidelines to communicate lessons learned. Several NASA centers and key programs also maintain lessons learned systems that are geared toward their own staff. To improve the way it captures and shares information, NASA has developed a strategic plan, assembled a management team to coordinate knowledge management and activities at NASA's centers, and begun several information technology pilot projects. Despite the processes and procedures in place to capture and share lessons learned, there is no assurance that lessons are being applied toward future missions success. Although some lessons learning does take place, lessons are not routinely identified, collected, or shared by programs and project managers. Furthermore, there are challenges or cultural barriers to the sharing of lessons learned, such as the lack of time to capture or submit lessons and a perception of intolerance for mistakes. Although NASA's current efforts should lead to improved sharing of agency lessons and knowledge, they lack components critical to the success of knowledge management at leading organizations. Successful industry and government organizations overcome barriers by making a strong management commitment to knowledge sharing, developing a well-defined business plan for implementing knowledge management, providing incentives to encourage knowledge sharing, and building technology systems to facilitate information access. The application of these principles could help NASA to better carry out its mission.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: NASA's Administrator should strengthen the agency's lessons learning processes and systems by designating a lesson learned manager to lead and coordinate all agency lessons learning efforts.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2003, the Office of the Chief Engineer assumed responsibility for NASA's lessons learning activities. The Office of the Chief Engineer appointed a lead person for the program. Currently, the new lead person is in the process of redesigning the lessons learned program in order to incorporate numerous improvements.

    Recommendation: NASA's Administrator should strengthen the agency's lessons learning processes and systems by establishing functional and technical linkages among the various center-level and program-level lessons learning systems.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2003, NASA's Administrator included in all executive performance plans an element for sharing best practices and lessons learned. In fiscal year 2004, that requirement will be included in the performance plans for managers, supervisors, and employees. Furthermore, approval is pending on a fiscal year 2004 Recognition and Awards Implementation and Communication Plan, that includes an action to ensure all criteria are clear and aligned with agency expectations. As part of this effort, NASA plans to develop recognition criteria for the collection and sharing of lessons learned.

    Recommendation: NASA's Administrator should strengthen the agency's lessons learning processes and systems by developing ways to broaden and implement mentoring and "storytelling" as additional mechanisms for lessons learning.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Lessons learned sharing is continuing through the use of NASA project management sharing forums and the use of online publications. These activities are largely conducted through NASA's Academy of Program and Project Leadership training organization.

    Recommendation: NASA's Administrator should strengthen the agency's lessons learning processes and systems by identifying incentives to encourage more collection and sharing of lessons among employees and teams, such as links to performance evaluations and awards.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2003, NASA's Administrator included in all executive performance plans an element for sharing best practices and lessons learned. In fiscal year 2004, that requirement will be incorporated into the performance plans for managers, supervisors, and employees. Furthermore, approval is pending on a fiscal year 2004 Recognition and Awards Implementation and Communication Plan, that includes a plan to ensure that all criteria are clear and aligned with agency expectations. As part of this effort, NASA is planning to develop recognition criteria for the collection and sharing of lessons learned.

    Recommendation: NASA's Administrator should enhance the agency's Lessons Learned Information System by coding information and developing an easier search capability to allow users to identify relevant lessons.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA updated the Lessons Learned Information System's search capability to make it easier for users to identify relevant information. The system can now be searched by subject area, NASA center/facility, enterprise, and program/project life-cycle stage, as well as by keywords.

    Recommendation: NASA's Administrator should enhance the agency's Lessons Learned Information System by including more positive lessons.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA is revising its NASA Procedures and Guidelines 7120.5, NASA Program and Project Management Processes and Requirements to incorporate the lessons learned within the past 4 years. Also, NASA is working on capturing the knowledge and skills of retiring employees.

    Recommendation: NASA's Administrator should enhance the agency's Lessons Learned Information System by providing a means to disseminate key lessons to users.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA updated the Lessons Learned Information System with the capability to automatically disseminate to users relevant lessons learned. This is achieved through the use of an e-mail subscription service that allows users to receive new lessons in the system that conform to their areas of interest. Also, NASA is developing a replacement lessons learned system that will further enhance their ability to share lessons learned.

    Recommendation: NASA's Administrator should enhance the agency's Lessons Learned Information System by soliciting user input on an ongoing basis.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA's Lessons Learned Information System has the capability to permit users to provide comments or observations on the system. In addition, the users are also permitted to provide comments on a lessons leaned contained in the system.

    Recommendation: NASA's Administrator should enhance the agency's Lessons Learned Information System by tracking and reporting on the effectiveness of the agency's lessons learning efforts using objective performance metrics.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA is still developing the appropriate set of metrics to measure their lessons learning activities. Metrics development is a major part of the Office of the Chief Engineer's redesign of the lessons learned program. Currently various output metrics (e.g., number of lessons read per period) are tracked, however, the redesigned program will include more value related metrics, and metrics that are related to improving processes.

    Recommendation: NASA's Administrator should strengthen the agency's lessons learning processes and systems by articulating the relationship between lessons learned and knowledge management through development of an implementation plan for knowledge management.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA developed and issued a knowledge management strategic plan in April 2002. The plan sets forth goals and objectives and a roadmap to facilitate better knowledge sharing across NASA. The plan emphasizes the importance of lessons learning and the need to strengthen NASA's activities in this area. In concert with the strategic plan, the Office of the Chief Engineer is leading the lessons learned activities for NASA. The Office has begun implementing improvements to the Lesson Learned Information System, increasing methods of making the information available, and incorporating the lessons into the day-to-day processes. Some of these activities are underway, however, most of these improvements will occur in fiscal year 2004.

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