Outlook for the rest of 2015 and into 2016

As we meet for this Director Status Review (DSR) I wanted to reflect on a couple of important topics: our people and our manifest.   First and foremost is our people. As it was mentioned at our Dec 2014 DSR, we are embarked in a significant workforce transition directed to enhance the stability in our civil service review manager workforce and to strengthen our civil service programmatic analyst staffing. The details of the transition will be covered during the meeting and please know that we are on plan to bring this talent into our civil service competent.   Also, as part of the regular career tempo some of our team members have/are transitioning into retirement, are moving to take on other challenges outside of the organization, or are completing the detail assignments in IPAO. The combined effect is significant changes in personnel with the ripple effect into assignments.   As with other periods of change there are disruptions to the organization and the SRBs but there are also lots of opportunities to take on new and challenging assignments and to work with new people.   I appreciate everybody’s continue support and patience while these changes are implemented as they will continue into the following calendar year.   As we will also discuss during the meeting, we are continuing our efforts to understand our working relationship to address areas where adjustments can be implemented to enhance the overall level of satisfaction of our workforce; this is an activity that also includes OoE.

As for the content of our work, I think it is interesting to observe that the composition of our manifest is evolving into a larger number of reviews involving more complex missions such as Europa and Asteroid Robotic Retrieval Mission, Landsat 9, the re-engagement with JWST, amongst others.   These missions given their complexity, require more involved discussions and elaborate planning. I don’t see that many “standard” Cat 2 entering our manifest. Even the PIRs seem to be less “standard” as they seem to be planned more and more as highly customized “topical” reviews such as the upcoming SCaN PIR.   We have also seen recent “acceleration” of lifecycle reviews and a few that have “popped” into our manifest in unexpected ways.   We will need to remain vigilant and flexible to engage in support of these efforts as we manage the workforce transition mentioned above and as we also respond to OoE direction to improve the execution of our procurement and travel dollars.   This is what makes life in IPAO challenging.

Let me hear from your thoughts

With regards,

The IPAO Environment

As is customary this time of the year, I reflect on the year we are completing and look forward to the year ahead.  This time I think we should not only reflect on the accomplishments from our work (and there have been many) but to reflect on the environment in which we accomplish our work.   You may be wondering what I mean by “environment” so let me elaborate.  The environment I refer to is the context in which we perform our work.  The IPAO environment is complex, challenging, and dynamic and everyone that is part of our organization needs to have full cognizance of this environment and understand that acceptance of these conditions is part of life in IPAO.

So let me summarize the features of the environment:

  • IPAO is involved with the highest priority efforts that carry out the agency’s strategic plan
  • IPAO is at the cross roads of policy expectation and the stark reality of implementation
  • Work in IPAO is high-stakes and time-driven and as a consequence is stressful but also highly rewarding
  • Work in the “art” of independent assessment is never finished
  • IPAO’s high visibility role, subjects our work and procedures to additional scrutiny
  • IPAO’s work (no matter at what level of review) cuts across center, mission directorate, and agency lines
  • Our work requires a difficult balance of technical, programmatic, legal, business and interpersonal knowledge and skill executed using a geographically disperse workforce
  • Credit for mission success will go the programs while we have to help answer for mission failure
  • The function of IPAO is unique at NASA and is performed with high expectations internally and externally to the agency
  • Our work is the last line of defense to help ensure overall mission success

I think you may say you know all of these but it is important to revisit this once in a while to remind us of the commitment we make when we become part of this organization.  That commitment consist of doing a difficult job in a complex, high stakes, and stressful environment.  The rewards are in the satisfaction that comes from having a meaningful opportunity to help the agency succeed.

So given that environment, I have setup time in the afternoon of the first day of the DSR to discuss the following topics with EAG and PAG:

  • Who is IPAO?
  • Do we have a realistic grasp of the environment when we assess ourselves and our organization?
  • Do we see ourselves in a way that moves us forward?
  • What are the expectations on each other and in support of the office? Are we here only to support our assigned reviews?
  • What is the appropriate balance between communicating and integrating our work versus the need for autonomy?
  • Are we organized in the most effective way to be successful in this environment?

I am looking forward to our discussion.

Messages from 2014 Virtual Leadership Summit

Every year or so, Charlie Bolden convenes an activity to bring agency senior leadership together (albeit virtually) to share information on current topics and to gather feedback from the participants.  I wanted to dedicate this blog to some of the key messages from the recent 2014 Leadership Summit that I think particularly resonate with the IPAO.

On leadership, Charlie described what he considers are the 3 most important factors a leader needs to be effective: know your stuff; know your people; and know yourself.  I consider that everyone in IPAO is called to exercise leadership either as a review manager by leading one of our important reviews, as programmatic analyst leading a team of analysts performing the integrated programmatic analyses for the review; or as business professional leading a new procurement, etc…, you get the idea. So Charlie’s advice I think is very wise and relevant to us.  To be effective, we need to know our stuff (and be able to communicate it well); we need to know the people in our teams; and we need to know our own strengths and limitations (we all have them) and Charlie’s advice is to be honest in our self-assessment and to address them.

Regarding effective communication, there was an insightful discussion on this topic from the Chief Scientist (Ellen Stofan).  Her presentation was titled “beyond the blah, blah, blah” and related her experience as she has tried to improve communicating the scientific value of the Agency’s work to members of the Congress and other groups.  She related her struggles in succinctly conveying the great scientific value of current and past programs in a straight forward manner so the appropriate support can be garnered, or as she put it, so it would pass the “so what test”.  She acknowledged that most times the audience doesn’t get the significance of what we do and so she has worked with Human Capital to develop an approach to improve that communication. In think we share similar challenges in IPAO communicating the key points and downstream impacts of the results of our assessments… we need to benchmark what she has done to see if it can help us.

Human Capital Chief, Jeri Buchholz, mentioned a couple of topics of interest to us.  She talked about “reverse mentoring” were a junior person mentors a senior person on items he/she may not be very familiar with (walking on somebody else’s shoes).  I think there is opportunity in IPAO to do this and I think it may provide new insights.  She also mentioned a couple of new awards the agency is putting in place with nominations and selection being done by peers and with rewards being are less formal (such as a ride in a prototype Moon rover).  Peer recognition is one of the strongest forms of recognition. Again, I think there is opportunity in our organization to take advantage of this type of award/approach.

Lastly, Charlie also mentioned the importance of tying the organization’s work to the strategicgoals of the Agency.  In that respect, the virtual summit concluded with a Mission Directorate (MD) panel where the leadership from the four MDs provided the highlights and outlook of their most important work.  With the exception of the Aeronautics MD (that the Agency has not asked us to assess) the work we do in IPAO mirrors the work that was briefed to a very high degree (almost a complete match).  So connecting the dots of our work with the strategic plan of the agency should be very straight forward for us. Nonetheless, I think to further reinforce it, I would like to begin sharing pictures of specific assessments, and directorsblogpic2most importantly, of our teams involved in those.  I would like to begin by sharing a couple of pictures from last year’s JWST Assessment Panel. In one of the pictures, members of the panel are in the building that houses the largest vacuum chamber in the world (Chamber A at JSC) where the JWST will undergo thermal vacuum testing to verify the integrated performance of the optics and instruments that are part of the observatory.  In the other, you see a couple of familiar faces in the chamber.  The panel was performing an assessment of the plans to begin that test.  Now is your turn, please feel free to share any pictures that show our teams in action helping the agency carry out its most significant work!


The items covered in this blog are only a small sample of the items discussed as several other discussions provided information of interest to us.  I will post the agenda and briefings that had been made available in the IPAO shared folder.

As always, I welcome your thoughts on the content of the blog.

An Eventful Year

Ortiz_ James226x170 As we gather for our last Director’s Status Review (DSR) of 2013 a look back at our activities and accomplishments this year reveals a year marked with unique challenges and opportunities. Our work plan for 2013 included several very significant “firsts” including the first PDR for the Exploration Systems Development (ESD), the first set of integrated reviews of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), and several new starts including OSIRIS-Rex, InSight, and SWOT. This year we also worked closely with the Mission Directorates to address those projects that experienced issues such as SGSS and ICESat-2. We closed out the review cycle and had the satisfaction to experience the successful flights of TDRS K, LDCM and MAVEN; all successful projects both technically and programmatically having completed development within the agency cost and schedule commitments. We continued supporting the transition through the lifecycle of several other projects and programs such as Sofia, ISS, RPS, SCAN, Orion, and ESD CP. We also continued supporting the agency by leading assessments outside of the SRB process such as the 2nd panel assessment of JWST. As you can see, the IPAO team continues to be at the very heart of the agency’s most critical work!

As we were executing our manifest, other noteworthy events presented a challenging environment for us this year such as the budget environment under sequestration.  The effects of sequestration limited our resources (such as travel) and had an effect in our planned manifest with several reviews, particularly at the program level, being cancelled or deferred.  We also experienced the effects of the shutdown for which we had to demonstrate a great deal of quick thinking and flexibility (during and after the shutdown) to keep critical review activities on track.  We also had the sobering experience of having IPAO personnel in proximity to the unfortunate events in Boston and LAX and we are very grateful they are safely with us.

In spite of several changes in OoE management, this year we worked very closely with OoE and CAD to examine our integrated capabilities, strengths and opportunities, and to chart our way forward.  This work is ongoing but results have already been produced such as the updated charters for OoE, CAD and IPAO and efforts such as the leading questions.  In parallel with the efforts at the OoE level, there is a dedicated activity underway to further streamline our internal processes with several of you directly supporting these efforts and with the leadership team ensuring coordination and alignment with the activities at the OoE level.  I look at these activities as investments we are making to make the organization more robust in tackling external challenges such as sequestration and to make the difficult and critical job we do easier to perform.

This year also saw key improvements in our business and procurement operations that have produced more timely and efficient support to our operational needs and improved execution of our budget.  We also continued to make strides in our training operations with a very successful offering of the boot camp training attended by a record number of people and organizations.

Some of the same challenges will continue next year, and as in the case of the budget, may become even more severe.  We also need to be prepared to take on new opportunities that are opening in our direction.   The improvements and other efforts we invested in this year, and continue investing going forward, position our team to take on the ambitious  manifest we are executing in FY 14, to respond effectively to new and ongoing challenges in our budget and management environments while being ready to take advantage of future opportunities.

Thank you very much for all your hard work and dedication this year.  I wish you and your families a very enjoyable end of the year and best wishes in the year to come.

James Ortiz

On Enhanced Communication of Review Results

Ortiz_ James226x170

One of the areas we have had significant discussions within IPAO (and a source of concern and frustration) has dealt with whether the agency’s leadership is getting the full benefit of the SRB’s assessment and analysis, performed during the lifecycle reviews, to understand the full readiness picture of the programs and projects to characterize their technical, cost, schedule, and risk posture going forward.

We have devoted many hours to improving our processes and analytical capabilities and have worked very hard to document what we do, resulting in stable operational procedures and standardized templates for our TORs and programmatic products.  We continue to work hard to improve the understating of requirements and expectations for the data and analyses needed to support the reviews by conducting proactive and inclusive discussions during dedicated planning sessions, with the programs and projects that resulted in improved readiness of products supporting the SRB activities.

Realizing the work described above in planning and performing the analyses sets a good foundation for the discussions that help inform agency approval decisions, it is important that we turn our attention to address the critical communication of lifecycle results for agency decision.  As a result, communication of the analyses, results and recommendations for agency decision is being addressed by OoE/IPAO working with the project management community and the leadership to help ensure the full benefit of the analyses performed during the lifecycle reviews by the programs/projects, the SRBs, and the Mission Directorates and the Centers come forward in a manner that enhances the deliberations to better inform approval decisions that set agency commitments.

Two important components of these efforts are the leading questions for programmatic analyses and the enhanced availability of the independent programmatic assessment. The leading questions are directed to help frame the discussions such that the “story” is discussed progressively by building on its logical components. These components are the basis for the cost and schedule plan that provides the foundation for all further discussion (what is the credibility of the plan); followed by the risk assessed against that plan (what could go wrong and what would be the impact), followed by the results of the probabilistic analyses (what resources would it take to achieve a given confidence for success), followed by a recommendation on where to set the agency’s commitments. The enhanced availability of the independent programmatic assessment addresses improved access to reports documenting the analyses performed by IPAO as part of the lifecycle reviews. The objective is to make that information available to members of the program management councils in a timely fashion to help them prepare to participate in the deliberations.

As we continue to work these improvements, you as a member of the IPAO will have a key role implementing these upgrades for the lifecycle reviews you are supporting. Please take advantage of the DSR discussions or subsequent staff meetings discussions to ensure you have a full understanding of these efforts. As it is often the case, you continue to be on the tip of the spear as the agency improves and evolves its project management practices.

Thank you for all you do in helping ensure the agency’s success of its programs and projects.

Flexibility is the Name of the Game

Ortiz_ James226x170 As we assemble for the first Director Status Review (DSR) of 2013 a look at the agenda reveals that IPAO continues to operate in an environment of significant change. While we all know that change is a continuous part of our environment and that it presents challenges as well as great opportunities, it is important to recognize that a key to adapting to change and for taking full advantage of its potential opportunities is flexibility. As we will discuss at DSR, the fiscal situation of the federal government is driving changes that have a direct impact to the way we operate. One manifestation of these changes is the reduction in travel as the federal government is looking for cost savings. These travel reductions are taking affect across the agency and will have an extensive effect in the way we work. As we prioritize our travel to those activities requiring broad levels of interaction, we will need to be flexible in considering alternative ways of interaction within the SRB and with the program/project as we perform the diverse activities necessary to plan and perform our reviews (such as remote participation or a mixture of personnel attending some activities in person and remotely). We have made key investments in IT capabilities in the office (LifeSize, WebEx, Vidyo,..) and have developed proficiency in using these capabilities; let’s take full advantage of them to enable these changes. These flexibilities also extend to interactions amongst each other as we continue to implement our geographically distributed organization. This DSR is a great example of that. The IPAO LifeSize ViTS equipment is now deployed across several centers for us to use, and I strongly encourage you to use it, not only for large meetings such as the DSR or staff meetings, but also for smaller meetings or even for one-on-one meetings (please consider using it in your meetings with me).

Another area where flexibility is highly desirable is in the implementation of our processes. This flexibility comes by deliberately looking for the most appropriate application of our process to the program/project under review and by continuing to examine our process for streamlining. As OoE goes forward working the actions that resulted from the March face-to-face meeting, we will need to remain open to respond to any new support needs to better serve our customers. Another important area where flexibility is needed is in our management oversight. We have heard you clearly that we need to do a better job in adjusting the oversight to the level of competence of individual members of the staff and the complexity of the task at hand; so the IPAO management team is formulating an approach to more deliberately graduate our oversight while increasing the level of empowerment in the office.

As you can see from the above, as the organization continues to move forward in this changing environment; flexibility is the name of the game!

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Thank you for your continued support and commitment to the Agency’s independent review function.
James N. Ortiz, PHD
IPAO Director

On the Threshold of FY13 – Challenges and Opportunities

Ortiz_ James226x170As we gather for Director Status Review (DSR) this September we are at the threshold of the new fiscal year. There is a lot of anticipation as to what the new fiscal year (FY) will bring, so here is a summary from the IPAO perspective.

We anticipate having another busy year of review activity in FY13 as shown by our review manifest which was approved last week by the APMC. Review activity will be especially heavy for reviews that establish Agency commitments for several Category 1 projects in human spaceflight development and space science missions. We are also beginning the new FY with new members of IPAO management and with a permanently staffed business management team. These staffing improvements will provide stability to the operation of the organization.

While a firm manifest gives us certainty about our work, several areas of uncertainty loom on the horizon. The fiscal situation of the U.S. Government and the corrective measures being considered to improve it could have repercussions for both the work that we are taking on next year, as well as the resources available to execute this work. The electoral cycle could produce changes in leadership and/or priority areas. These areas of uncertainty are completely outside our control but we could (and have) taken prudent steps to mitigate these uncertainties. We have continued to implement the initiatives that resulted from the Value Stream Mapping (VSM) to lean our processes and to get more “bang for the buck.” We had proposed an approach to prioritize our work and have received APMC approval to implement it in case we run into resource shortages during the year. We are carefully (and conservatively) planning the execution of our budget so we have the flexibility to recover if we face cuts within the year. We have improved our management and the configuration control of our planning products so we can more rapidly react to changes. In a nutshell, the name of the game is flexibility. We have taken all prudent steps so we can react to changes rapidly and efficiently.

Any changes bring challenges and opportunities as well. This year we had the chance to perform a new type of review activity (the progress assessment of JWST). I anticipate the following year will also bring new opportunities for our organization to enhance our contributions to the Agency and I am looking forward to it.

Thank you for your continued support and your commitment to the Agency’s independent review function and happy new FY!

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Thank you for your continued support and commitment to the Agency’s independent review function.
James N. Ortiz, PhD
IPAO Director

On Travel Restrictions: The New Normal…

Ortiz_ James226x170By now everybody in IPAO has felt the effects of this year’s travel budget. For an organization like ours operating across such a broad scope and requiring such an extensive network of interfaces this has had a significant impact. Perhaps you are wondering whether this is a temporary issue to be waited out or whether it is something more permanent. I am sorry to tell you that what we have seen is part of the government-wide effort to reduce costs that is here to stay. It is anticipated that next year’s travel budget will be reduced another ten percent (that is on top of this year’s twenty percent reduction from FY10 levels).

So what are we going to do about it? We have prioritized our travel to support those activities that most require our physical presence and the highest level of personal interaction. This has been a painful activity and it has required us to plan our travel much more carefully and to work differently while still maintaining our effectiveness. We have reduced the number of Director Status Review (DSR) meetings at LaRC and have introduced virtual DSRs. We are also running some of our other meetings virtually such as the upcoming Chair Pause and Learn (PAL) and the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) quarterlies. Recognizing that we will have more remote working meetings, we are upgrading our IT infrastructure to include “life-size” high definition video capabilities at our major locations in order to run VITS-like meetings involving large groups at multiple locations that can be scheduled and conducted “on-the-fly.” We have also procured more WebEx licenses and improved cameras to run remote meetings and collaborate in smaller groups. We are also upgrading our training to capture lessons and events in video format to be available “on-demand.” Unlike this fiscal year, in which the travel cut was announced after we had already spent at a much higher level for one quarter, we can anticipate the reduced travel funding from the beginning of the coming year. This will allow us to better absorb the reduction by planning accordingly.

I recognize that these mitigations may not seem to allow for the same quality of interactions and relationships we have been able to build when the travel budget was less restricted but we need to recognize that this is our new normal. Every cloud has a silver lining and this reduction in travel can be viewed as providing us the opportunity to spend more time at home and who would argue with that! I am confident that the resilient staff of IPAO will find a way to make this work just as you have successfully confronted every other challenge.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Thank you for your continued support and commitment to the Agency’s independent review function.
James N. Ortiz, PhD
IPAO Director

Communication is a Two Way Street…

Ortiz_ James226x170Communication is often referred as the “bloodline” of an organization.  This is definitely true in IPAO where our staff is distributed in a multitude of ways.  Just think about it, we are obviously geographically distributed as we have offices across several field centers but we are also distributed along the lines of the work we engage; some would say that the work in science robotics missions is “miles” apart from the work in human spaceflight.  We also have two groups in IPAO that perform very distinct although complementary functions in programmatic assessment and review planning and execution.  On top of all of that, we are going through a time of considerable transition with organizational and leadership changes taking effect as the agency is addressing the need for increased austerity.

So our need for communication is great and the IPAO management staff has recognized it and is taking to heart your suggestions to improve the timely communication within the office.  As an example we have taken steps to bring current topics of interest to the staff meetings and we are ensuring the notes and materials are available when people are not able to attend.  We are also taking advantage, as often as practical, for you to hear the perspective from leadership as Geoff and/or I candidly discuss the issues we are tackling at any given time.

But as much as we try, we are limited by what we don’t know you want to know.  This information is critical in ensuring we are communicating and so we need you to engage and ask the questions you may have or identify topics you want to hear about.  There are many ways for you to do so and I welcome any you may prefer.  You can engage at the staff meeting (including suggesting topics), at DSR, or you can email or call me.  Please don’t hesitate to do so.  The same applies to other information you may think is useful to the rest of the office.  I also appreciate your response to our request to improve the inputs on the weekly report as this is another important communication vehicle to keep everybody appraised.

As with any other blog topics, I welcome your thoughts.
James N. Ortiz, PhD
IPAO Director

Happy New Year: FY12 Outlook

Ortiz_ James226x170Last week the Agency Program Management Council (APMC) approved our manifest of reviews for the new fiscal year.  This year we aligned our manifest approval with the beginning of the fiscal year.  This alignment allows us to better synchronize the content of our work, which is primarily driven by the manifest, with the staffing and financial resources of the office.  Our manifest for this year includes significant new program content in Human Spaceflight (Exploration Systems Development Programs and likely review of the Commercial Crew Program) as well as in the reimbursable arena (JPSS).  The manifest also includes high review activity leading to KDPs B, C and D and several Program Implementation Reviews of high-profile Programs such as SCaN, SOFIA, and HRP, to name just a few. At 33 reviews, it represents an 18% increase over the planned manifest for FY11.  The discussion at the APMC also included mitigation strategies to address resource limitations in workforce and financial resources of the office.  These discussions were oriented to seek relief of potential issues with our current staffing approach and to discuss a prioritization approach to deploy our financial resources.  As IPAO is not immune to the budget challenges faced by the Agency and the federal government, we carefully planned our manifest and the approach to deploy our resources including how to adjust our plans to respond to the inevitable changes in review schedules and content.  This year we are also poised to begin reaping the benefits of our streamlining and enhanced delegation efforts as we continue to implement these needed improvements.  IPAO will also continue to support the Chief Engineer by finalizing the update to the SRB Handbook and participating in the NPR 7120 update “roll out” across the Agency.  So happy new fiscal year everybody, we are very lucky in these difficult times to have an exciting year full of challenging work ahead of us. Let’s make the best of it!

James N. Ortiz, PhD
IPAO Director