Project Management Institute

Organizational behavior and disaster

a study of conflict at NASA

Formal investigations into the in-flight explosions of the United States space shuttles Challenger and Columbia revealed problems that go beyond the technical and mechanical. These disasters occurred, this paper explains, because of operational problems within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), problems caused by NASA's practice of groupthink, its dependence on externally imposed budgets and schedules, and its breakdown in project quality management. This paper opens by examining NASA's 47-year history, its entrenched groupthink culture (seemingly invulnerable, historically complacent), and its unwillingness to appropriately manage the triple constraints--schedule, cost, and quality. Following this, it identifies the forces controlling NASA's management and explains how these forces influence the way NASA manages its operations.
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