Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Some thoughts concerning NASA’s Team B effect – on maintaining strength through transitions – 2

Posted in in the News, outsourcing and globalization, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on July 25, 2011

A few days ago I posted a short note to this blog, in effect memorializing the impending re-demise of NASA as a cutting edge, important mission-driven organization (see On Maintaining Strength Through Transitions – 1.) I found myself thinking about the many unmanned planetary exploration missions and other great achievements that I did not even include by way of brief mention in my first NASA posting, and I thought of the Hubble Space Telescope and other achievements that were carried out through, and made possible because of their space shuttles and other more transportation oriented primary missions.

And with this I am still left only making note of some of the high points of NASA’a success and particularly when the overarching value of technology transfer is considered, and the seeming myriad of products and methods developed for space that have been put to use here on Earth. But in a fundamental sense that posting and this are not about NASA except as a too often non-working, repeatedly scaled-back example. The real story here goes beyond the more specific NASA context as it is about the pressures to compete and to remain lean and focused on immediate mission and priorities, and on how at times that requirement can seem to starkly conflict with the need to remain agile and future-oriented with capacity to develop the next New.

NASA, as a government agency, dependent on government funding has always been like a business with just one customer – completely dependant on that customer and completely vulnerable to the consequences of any shifts or changes in their purchasing decisions. So this story is about finding and developing a particular balance of agility and capacity to move forward, and even into the still unknown, while at the same time remaining lean and here-and-now cost-effective. And the two basic points that I would make in this posting are that:

• Finding and reaching that balance can only be achieved through adherence to an ongoing, continuously recurring cyclical process of data collection, analysis and follow through in action, with ongoing reviews and fine tuning going into the next cycle.
• And that this cyclical risk and opportunity management process has to look into and inform every aspect of the organization that could serve to create or define value for the organization – or loss of value if done ineffectively.

As I stated at the end of my Part 1 posting on NASA and its situation I am going to follow this posting with a next installment in my developing series: Outsourcing as a Business Paradigm (see Outsourcing and Globalization, postings 4-6.) Here, the NASA story, as a case study example exemplifies the results of a breakdown in one area of the cycles and systems noted in the above bullet points, and traditional outsourcing is an approach taken in attempting to rectify breakdowns in other parts of these same larger cyclical processes and systems. These stories both fit into the same larger framework, even if they represent different parts to that same larger organizational puzzle.

I would further argue that any valid understanding of either the NASA story or of outsourcing, and certainly as it is traditionally approached (see Outsourcing as a Business Paradigm – 1) have to include both macroeconomic and microeconomic level analyses.

A macroeconomic level analysis is more commonly pursued in discussing outsourcing, with consideration of impact on entire industries and on workforces as a whole and with specific consideration of individual businesses and their employers coming in more as examples of larger phenomena. I will add that this is the level I have been focusing on in the first three parts to my current series on outsourcing (e.g. see Part 3 and its discussions in particular.) And I will focus on this level in my fourth series installment on outsourcing.

Microeconomic level analysis looks into this practice of outsourcing as it explicitly fits into the risk and opportunities management processes and systems within individual businesses that I identified in the above bullet points. I am going to explicitly turn to that level of analysis after finishing my initial discussion of outsourcing from a macroeconomic perspective.

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