This is Launch Conditioning #6
Fieldwork undertaken by Crosby reveals a particular characteristic of some high-tech project managers; an unwavering sense of purpose in making mission success the highest priority at all levels of the project. The adoption of this "mission assurance" approach is captured compellingly within the aerospace industry, which encourages institutional line management to become more engaged in the execution of the project and be held accountable for mission success. So important has this proved at NASA, it now maintains specific safety and mission assurance functional offices.
The implementation of a mission assurance function (part auditor, part advisor, part "devil's advocate") means placing this vital resource outside of mainstream project delivery, yet close enough to have ready participation in critical testing, meetings, and reviews, and with access to project management. The role is principally one of questioning and checking that activities, deviations and changes, particularly at project interfaces, pose no unrecoverable threat to execution and performance.
Created at project start-up, the mission assurance function is best placed to conduct a project audit after the definition stage but before execution begins. Graham & Englund describe this as:
"like a group of expert consultants ... review the plans and proposals before the project team begins ... and provide feedback on the technical and managerial feasibility of the plans ... using their knowledge and experience to foresee problems."
Several of the interviewees for this study claimed that external panels fulfilled the niche of mission assurance while conducting design reviews etc., but the temporary nature of these panels is never equivalent to a project-bound person or group. Moreover, rather than be created as part of the project execution and deployment team, this paper argues for a distinct mission assurance role to be assigned at project inception and developed as a central (overhead) function necessary for driving project success.
104. Crosby, P. (2012a). Characteristics and techniques of successful high-technology project managers. International Journal of Project Organization and Management, 4(2).
105. NASA, 2000. Report on project management in NASA. Mars climate orbiter mishap investigation board, NASA, California.
106. Graham, R. J., & Englund, R. L. 1997. Creating an environment for successful projects. California: Jossey-Bass, p192.