Planning for program closeout



The closeout phase of the program/project life cycle does not receive the attention of other phases. Project managers are often reminded to start closeout planning early, however, without training or access to experienced personnel, project managers are often left without the knowledge of what needs to be done. “Planning for Program Closeout” is an insightful look into the planning that prepared NASA to execute the closeout of America's Space Shuttle Program inclusive of considerations for personal property, facilities, government records, IT systems, subcontracts, and the people. Beginning with a brief history about the end of the Space Shuttle Program, insights are shared on the complexity of closing a program of this magnitude and how the lessons can be applied to future projects and programs. Key lessons for planning are highlighted within the context of the Space Shuttle Program closeout.

The Vision for Space Exploration

“The Shuttle's chief purpose over the next several years will be to help finish assembly of the International Space Station. In 2010, the Space Shuttle—after nearly 30 years of duty—will be retired from service” (George W. Bush White House Archives, January 2004, para. 14). Those were the words of President George W. Bush on 14 January 2004 when he announced the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE). The overall message outlined the direction for America's space program to explore the moon, Mars and beyond but also marked a turning point for NASA‘s Space Shuttle Program.

Prior to that day in January, the Space Shuttle Program (SSP) had no plans for closeout. In fact, it was quite the contrary as upgrades were in work or contemplated that would ensure safe operations through 2020. The VSE required the program to begin the process of closing one of NASA‘s largest and long-lived programs. Although the SSP had no requirements, the agency has a NASA Procedural Requirements for Space Flight Program and Project Management Requirement, NPR 7120.5E. This document addresses closeout at a high level and calls for a Decommissioning Review (DR) to be held prior to the start of the closeout phase. The objective of the DR is to evaluate the readiness of the program and its projects to conduct closeout activities, including final delivery of all remaining program/project deliverables and safe decommissioning /disposal of space flight systems and other program/project assets. Given the magnitude of the effort to close a large program, there was a significant amount of work to be done.

The SSP had several prime contacts in place to support the operations. Of these contracts, the Space Program Operations Contract (SPOC), managed by the United Space Alliance, LLC (USA) was by far the largest. At the time of the VSE announcement, there were no closeout requirements or contract authorization for USA to plan for or to perform the closeout of the program. Much of this paper addresses the closeout efforts by USA to close the SPOC as well as the Space Shuttle Program, but minimizes discussion of the proposals and contract modifications that were required to enable performance of the closeout activities under SPOC. This paper covers the effort to perform the programmatic closeout and the administrative effort to close the contract.

Starting Closeout

Activities within each phase of the program life cycle overlap with certain gates to pass through as you transition into the next phase (Project Management Institute [PMI], 2013, p. 50) (NASA, 2012, section 2.2.4). Closeout occurs at the end of a program; however, as shown in Figure 1, there is some level of activity throughout.

Compared to other phases of the life cycle, there is little detail written in project management literature or included in program and project management training that addresses closeout in detail.

Without the information or access to personnel experienced in closeout, it is difficult to know what early planning and processes need to be in place during the planning and execution phases in order to execute an efficient closeout. This was the challenge faced by the SSP after the VSE announcement.

Representative Levels of Activity for Phases of the Life Cycle

Figure 1. Representative Levels of Activity for Phases of the Life Cycle

Closeout Scope

USA‘s part to close the Space Shuttle Program required the three orbiter vehicles to be safed and prepared for display; disposition of approximately 600,000 line items of personal property valued at $US9billion; transition or closure of 1.2 million square feet of leased space and over 300 government facilities; archival of a huge volume of paper government records in a variety of media, decommission or transfer of over 76,000 information technology (IT) systems; closure of dozens of major cost-type subcontracts and hundreds of smaller procurements; and the placement or termination of approximately 10,000 employees from the space shuttle workforce.

Quantification of the items to be dealt with was relatively easy. The difficult task was deciding on what to do with all the assets, developing the time phasing of those activities, and estimating the resource requirements to perform the tasks. The SSP had continually refined processes that made operations more efficient, but there were no resources preparing for the closeout phase of the life cycle. It was apparent that a bow wave of activity was coming, and we needed to be prepared.

Closeout Planning

Initial Team Formation

Initially, a small team was formed with members from across the program to begin the planning. The membership included NASA personnel from Johnson Space Center, Kennedy Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, and Stennis Space Center. USA, as a major prime contractor, was also on the team. Besides representatives from key projects within the program, there were members from human resources, public affairs, and procurement. This membership provided a good cross-section of knowledge of the various aspects of the program. In hindsight property management should have been on the team. Being part of this team was an excellent opportunity for all members to broaden their knowledge and to participate in the early planning of a major undertaking.

This team obtained program approval and funding to begin the planning effort at this small scale. The team established goals and objectives with the primary goal to take no action that would affect the safe and successful fly out of the Space Shuttle. There were at least six years of shuttle operations remaining and successfully meeting the mission objectives was the number one priority of the program. Many members of the initial planning team moved on to other assignments as the planning progressed making good planning documentation a key tool in bringing the new personnel up to speed.


The team understood that requirements would be needed, but recognized the need to gain some knowledge of what is involved with a program closeout. A decision was made to benchmark the closeout of other programs. Benchmarking is not a process that one thinks of in the closeout phase, but NASA did not have a suite of best practices in this area so it only made sense to use this tool. A brainstorming activity was used to generate ideas for possible benchmarking candidates and a selection criterion was developed to narrow the options. Of the options selected, the closest analogy to what the Space Shuttle Program was going to experience was with the U.S. Air Force's Titan Rocket Program. It was a large space flight program, about a third the size of the Space Shuttle Program, and with longer period of performance. The team members documented the results of the benchmarking effort so the information could assist NASA in future program closeouts. This experience pointed to the importance of developing the lessons learned document as part of closeout.

Several key concepts were identified in the benchmarking. One of these is the Transition Property Assessment (TPA), which is a proactive approach to planning for the disposition of personal property. The assessment includes the identification of last need dates, projected disposition direction, hazardous conditions, and the potential for declaration as historic artifacts. Another concept introduced was the Strategic Capability Assessment (SCA). This assessment groups assets, skills, and processes into strategic capabilities which enable “big picture” strategic decisions on funding and the transition or closure of the capability. The assignment of the assets to a group allows for quick and efficient response to decisions on a capabilities future.

Consideration for the work required and understanding the data needed to support closeout can influence the management tools and processes that are implemented in the planning and execution phases. The SSP spent time and money creating new tools and collecting data to support these assessments at the end of the program. If the data elements were part of the ongoing process during execution, there may have been less of a bow wave of activity and the planning would have required less time and resources.

Management Plans

Top level planning typically needs requirements to know what to plan for, but there were no closeout requirements in the National Space Transportation System (NSTS) Requirements Document, NSTS 07700, or in the Space Shuttle Program management plans. The need for a management plan specific to closeout was quickly recognized; however, there were many open items in terms of the management structure, the government's acquisition strategy for closeout, etc. The team initiated development of a closeout management plan before formal requirements were baselined. We took advantage of the benchmarking results and pulled from as many sources as possible to develop an informal set of top-level requirements.

During the early stages of planning there is usually missing information or decisions to be made. The key is to create a plan with the available information and then, to add content and detail as it becomes available. Plans can be divided into management methods and management data. The methods to be used are more easily documented.

Stakeholder Management

Identification of the stakeholders for Space Shuttle Closeout was easy, but getting the attention that we wanted was the challenge. The team recognized that shuttle operations were the priority and that closeout needs would be secondary. There were also personnel who were in a state of denial, expecting the next administration to redirect NASA to continue flying shuttles. The administration change did not change the direction of the Space Shuttle, but instead decided to change direction that required the closeout team to reassess the end state requirements for capabilities.

Understanding the emotions and priorities of management and the workforce in the early stages of closeout planning helps minimize the frustration that can be felt. Another aspect of entering the closeout phase is that many people will be looking for the next opportunity as this one closes which creates personnel turnover in the stakeholders. These turnovers provide opportunities to recruit personnel who have a variety of operations experiences and perspectives. As new personnel are assigned to critical positions, it is important to bring them up to speed on the planning to date and the future actions to ensure continued cohesiveness of the team. These changes may provide an opportunity to redirect decisions or introduce challenges to keep some decisions in place.

Once the final wheel stop occurred for the STS-135 mission, it was like a light switch turning the lights on closeout shifting the focus from operations to closeout.

Planning Products

The theory of project management describes a sequential process of creating the planning products and continuing to refine them over time. In reality, the data and decisions may not be available to support a logical development of the planning products. This section will describe the planning products for the Space Shuttle Program Closeout, but we will forego any attempt to describe them in the sequence they were developed. The key is that the theory offers guidance, but should not restrict the project management process.

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

The WBS defines all the work that is required by the program and provides the structure for cost planning, collection and reporting. The need for consistent cost planning method was a forcing function for the development of the closeout WBS. Considering the work that needed to be done to transition or retire the property, facility, property, records, information technology and subcontracts the basic structure was relatively easy. The only change for the closeout of the Space Shuttle was including a flight assets WBS element to capture the work associated with the orbiter vehicles and major flight elements.

The initial WBS structure was developed in 2006 with program-wide use for budget planning in 2008. This WBS structure was also used to build the statement of work (SOW) for the SPOC Closeout contract in 2010. For the SPOC, the closeout WBS was assigned to the second level of the contract. This approach worked well because the full work scope was clearly identified and the cost budgeting, collection and reporting easily segregated from the operational costs. USA‘s WBS dictionary proved valuable for scope control; educating the workforce of the scope, constraints and assumptions; and the numbering served as a shorthand language for the team.


Closeout planning and early execution occurred while the majority of personnel remained focused on safe and successful fly out. Only a skeleton organization for closeout could be established until the last wheel stop. Due to the reduction in the workforce at the end of the program, consideration of how the organizational structure would shrink was a necessity. At USA, the move was to a stronger matrix environment and as the work of a group was completed, those organizational elements were closed unless other contract work existed.

The move from operations to closeout required a cultural shift. In hindsight, this was a major change and a management challenge. The support functions (property, records, and information management) were now the driving organizations for the work to be performed replacing that organizational stature that had been held by the technical organizations. In some cases, the individuals within the support functions were not prepared to take a lead role. In addition, the work process flows changed and new interfaces were introduced to support them.

Process rigor for human spaceflight is very strict. After decades of training the workforce to protect and tightly control the “pedigree” of the hardware and equipment, it was difficult for them to move to less stringent processes. Reducing the rigor was critical to being able to meet the cost and schedule targets, but was much more difficult than expected.

Organizational change and the cultural shift need to be included in the early planning as well as a communications strategy that will provide ongoing and timely dissemination of clearly stated information of the changes. While the Space Shuttle Program may be an extreme example of a closeout, it does point to the need to begin preparing the organization, management, and employees, for the shifts that will occur.

Multiple Process Plans

New or modified process workflows were required to support the closeout effort under the cost and schedule constraints that were imposed by NASA. Multiple plans were produced to document these workflows and to define the interfaces and new roles of the various organizations. These included closeout-unique plans in the areas of property management, environmental management, information technology management, configuration management, etc. There were also plans for the four major project elements within the program, for the major facilities, and contract transitions.

Each plan was tailored to provide the level of detail necessary to define the approaches and document the direction and guidance for the implementation of closeout. An overall document tree showed the relationship of the various documents and the Program Closeout Plan served as the overarching document.


During benchmarking, the concept of the Strategic Capability Assessments was introduced. This concept fit well with the schedule approach using an Integrated Master Plan (IMP) to structure the schedule around events, significant accomplishments, and accomplishment criteria. The structure provided by the IMP was flowed down to the various projects and organizations to define their task schedules. The detailed schedules were based on the IMP structure which enabled efficient integration and integrated schedule assessment.

There was no effort made to create an Integrated Management Schedule (IMS) at the contract level. Schedule performance at the contract level was measured through the IMP, which served as the top-level schedule. The individual projects managed their individual schedules reporting progress at the appropriate IMP level. A burn-down chart of the IMP‘s significant accomplishments created a quick view of the overall schedule performance.


Programming, Planning, Budgeting and Execution (PPBE) is an annual budget planning process used by NASA to create a five-year projection of funding requirements. Each year the five-year window slides one year later so the fidelity of the out-year estimates improves with each cycle of the PPBE. The announcement of the Space Shuttle Closeout came at a time that allowed multiple cycles through the PPBE.

The PPBE produced lower and lower total cost estimates each year as knowledge of the work scope improved and early process improvements were assumed in the estimates. USA‘s closeout proposal in response to NASA‘s request for proposal provided the final and best estimate of the costs. The annual iteration of the cost estimates resulted in an improved understanding of the work required and a substantial reduction in the cost estimates.

Risk Management

The Space Shuttle Program followed a very rigorous risk management process. The workforce was very familiar with the process and use of the 5 x 5 risk scorecard. The risk scorecard for operations had consequences defined for the operations environment, but these were not necessarily applicable for closeout. A new scorecard was tailored to the closeout environment so the risks could be properly prioritized. In addition to the scorecard, changes in the rigor of the risk process and risk management infrastructure resulting in reduced costs during closeout.

Configuration Management (CM)

The need for CM does not stop during the closeout phase. During the Space Shuttle Program closeout, there were numerous changes. The change evaluation and approval process needs to be applied to the contract and program requirements as well as any process changes.

Iterative Planning

The project life cycle phases show planning overlapping and extending across most of the life cycle. The planning continues throughout closeout to respond to changes. Closeout tasks will typically be prioritized below any operational or development activity so budget challenges should be expected. When these challenges come, it requires a re-plan activity to evaluate the impacts of the reduction and what actions can be taken to meet the challenges.

Lessons Learned

In the planning process, develop an integrated Ops Concept that includes closeout.

Limit the “new” tools proposed for efficiency; at the end of the program simplicity is most efficient approach.

Provide top-level closeout education for the workforce so they know what to expect.

Property—include data in the property management systems that enable proactive planning for disposition. Use a consistent definition and approach to counting property line items.

Records—explicitly identify the records and who holds the official record. As records are identified, define the retention schedules and archive as you go.

Information Technology—maintain the system interdependency mapping, along with an inventory of applications, licenses, and agreements with software vendors.

For each phase of the life cycle, evaluate processes (risk management, configuration management, schedule management, etc.) for tailoring opportunities to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and applicability.

Create lessons learned because people may want to talk with you about what you did, how, and why. The Space Shuttle Program would not have benefited from benchmarking if others had not done this.


National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). (2012, August 14). NASA Procedural Requirement 7120.5E, NASA Space Flight Program and Project Management Requirements.

President Bush Announces New Vision for Space Exploration Program. (2004, January 14). Retrieved from

Project Management Institute. (2013). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (5th ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

© 2013, Kevin Repa
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – New Orleans, Louisiana



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