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National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Management Issues


Organizations are currently being faced by management problems, and this makes it extremely difficult for managers to make effective decisions. Current management crises are becoming increasingly complex, and it tends to intertwine with other organizational problems, which have prolonged impacts. Current management issues arise due to technological advancements, poor communication as well as poor decision making.

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These developments create environments that are significantly affected by a single crisis, therefore, leading to problems in management. Management issues can escalate in unforeseen ways leading to development of disasters that could have otherwise been prevented.

Many organizations are faced with management problems that result in poor decision making, poor communication as well as losses. These organizations are starting to monitor and manage problems they face since addressing management issues can directly cut organizational costs and ensure effective communication within various departments, leading to effective decision making. Disasters cannot be avoided and, therefore, an effective management program has to be implemented, which is aimed at preventing disasters from occurring. An effective management system will also ensure greater risks associated with disasters are avoided.

NASA is experiencing significant challenges in its management and program risks. The organization has had advanced knowledge in science and space exploration for many years. NASA is, however, facing considerable difficulties, especially in areas of controlling costs and providing guidance for crucial projects (Hoffman, 1994). These difficulties have had enormous impacts on critical missions. NASA ought to organize its decision making process to minimize the risk of occurrence of future disasters. It would be best for NASA to reassess its understanding of management given the nature of current disasters and their ensuing disruption. Disasters tend to be chaotic processes that keep changing from time to time.

Various projects that have been launched by NASA have caused serious disasters leading to loss of lives. For instance, the Space Shuttle Challenger, which was launched by NASA in 1986, was destroyed by solid rocket booster joints. The main cause of the disaster can be attributed to the fact that NASA used a flawed decision making process. A poor decision making process allowed the space shuttle challenger to be launched despite clear evidence of an impending disaster.

Several factors contributed towards the flawed decision making within the organization. Managers in NASA were not willing to accept that they can make mistakes, and the management process led to organizational decay. Management issues and poor decision making within NASA occurred due to independence and autonomy (National Research Council Committee for the Review of NASA’s Revolutionize Aviation Program, 2004).

Other contributing factors include lack of effective communication skills, group think and cognitive dissonance. Occurrence of the disaster showed that there was an enormous management problem, particularly inadequate decision support systems. One fundamental premise of decision making is that information should be available to decision makers, and it should be provided in the right manner and at the right time so as to meet goals and accomplish the purpose of users.

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The space shuttle disaster and the related flawed decision making clearly indicate management issues faced at NASA. The disaster teaches individuals about the importance of effective decision making within organizations (National Research Council Committee for the Review of NASA’s Revolutionize Aviation Program, 2004).

NASA’s organizational design was conducive to poor decision making since there was not a right match between technologies and organizational design. Technology used at NASA placed high demands on personnel in the different organizational structures. Such technologies would be efficient in flexible organizations. NASA has a bureaucratic organization, and this led to problems in its management systems. If projects are not comprehensible and uncertain, it is assumed that information may be gained from processing the project. As technologies continue to become complex methods, management must also become flexible.

More interaction should exist among personnel, and the organization should employ skilled professionals who will be able to use technologies effectively. Various management issues may arise, and there might not be any principles developed to solve them.

NASA experiences four fundamental challenges in management, which include implementation of fast and cost-effective mechanisms to space exploration, improving skills and abilities of human capital, making corrections in contract management, and controlling costs. These challenges impact decision making within NASA, therefore, creating an avenue through which disasters can occur.

Major Relevant Principles to be applied

Relevant principles have to be applied to address the key management issues experienced at NASA. These principles will organize the decision making process, therefore, minimizing the risk of future disasters. The management at NASA has no option but to make radical changes in the organization. The organization must come up with a strategy that will create a suitable mix of staff capable of meeting the organization’s future needs. NASA will also have to develop effective approaches that will assist in acquiring, developing and retaining skilled and qualified individuals. These principles will ensure the organization creates a results-oriented organizational culture in which there is effective communication among the different departments, therefore, ensuring effective decision making.

Strategic human capital management is a key principle that should be the main focus for any change in management initiatives and mechanisms of transforming cultures and design of organizations. Among the most valuable assets in any organization is its human resource. It is this resource that helps in driving the organization’s performance, defining its culture, and at the same time embodying the organization’s knowledge base.

NASA should process information through the personnel to define management problems faced within the organization as well as to develop new principles. Open communication and collaboration should exist across all the departments, especially due to use of uncertain technologies. Effective communication across departments reduces ambiguity of information, which organizational personnel can access. Linking roles improves the ability of an organization to make wise decisions. In NASA, linking roles had not been given much importance, and this led to poor communication and coordination across different departments.

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There is a dire need for integration of an organization’s goals, structure, objectives and strategies. Integration will make it possible for managers to identify management issues within an organization and proactively solve them. Researchers indicate that technology determines the design of an organization. A match between organizational design and technology is a critical aspect that determines the success of the organization. An organization with effective communication will be achieved when a balance exists between technology, strategy, structure and needs of individuals.

Another relevant principle that can be applied is developing an integrated database. Decisions should be made based on the integrated database and decision making tools, such as statistical regression techniques. Critical components of projects should also be closely referenced with the test plans. This is a relevant principle that will prevent an occurrence of disasters. An integrated database ensures communication of appropriate information to relevant personnel at the right time and place. A time has come when NASA must redirect or discontinue elements and processes that are not in total support of its missions. Lessons of past tasks, for instance, the disaster caused by the space shuttle challenger should be used to facilitate success of current tasks.

Broadening participation of personnel is also regarded as an important principle as it will encourage and provide opportunities to all employees to make contributions to the decision making process. Employee participation will contribute towards the accomplishment of NASA’s goals. Effective mechanisms should, therefore, be developed to encourage and motivate all employees to contribute to decision making and assume accountability and responsibility for safety. The main aim of this principle is to prevent management issues form coming up within the organization, since all employees will take part in preventing disasters from occurring by taking up responsibility and participating in the safety measures.

Analysis and Principle Application

NASA’s governance and management process is done through three key councils dealing with strategic management, program management, and operations management. These three management councils are required to ensure efficient decision making within NASA. They also play a massive role in facilitating communication across various elements at NASA. NASA’s management should focus on the success of projects across a complex portfolio of challenging tasks. Its organizational governance design will promote constructive management of tensions that exist between organizational practices and goals.

For a decision making process to be effective, it must balance between authorities entrusted in program managers and institutional managers. An existence of a proper balance in the governance design of NASA will promote an integrated professional relationship between institutional and pragmatic managers.

NASA’s strategic management council proposes, to its management, processes to control the design and implement the organization’s strategy with a view of achieving the desired results. This ensures transparency and cost effectiveness when they plan, budget, program, and implement projects. The most salient aspect is that these processes and principles encourage constant and effective communication across all departments in the organization. Important lessons are learned from disasters that occurred before.

An integrated database will enhance communication and coordination across all departments within NASA. The entire organizational design depends on exchange of information and ideas from decision makers to all the involved personnel. It would, therefore, be necessary to monitor communication channels so as to assess their effectiveness and to determine whether the right information is being transferred to decision makers. Information issues have to be corrected at initial stages to reduce the risk of a disaster occurring. NASA should establish contractual procedures and information avenues to ensure personnel are able to access relevant information.

The organization should implement a safety working group concept that is adapted to organizational needs and culture. The safety working group will be able to operate effectively as it may face just a few constraints. The group will work towards reducing and preventing disasters from occurring as they will be able to understand the projects as well as refer to previous factors that contribute towards occurrence of disasters (Rosenthal & Pijnenburg, 1991).

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Strategic human capital management is the foundation for all NASA safety related decision making. Personnel should play their roles efficiently regarding performance of key safety functions as well as transfer of information to other employees within the organization. Adequate information will lead to effective decision making. Personnel are assigned authority, responsibility and accountability, and they should keep in mind the key roles and their responsibilities. It is, therefore, necessary for NASA to establish a formal role for all personnel directly involved in the decision making processes.

Strategies of enhancing personnel responsibilities should also be developed, as this will ensure they have a clear understanding of the roles they have to play in the organization. This will help in eliminating ignorance and implementation of tasks that are associated with considerable risks. Every member will be accountable for their actions, and all tasks will be monitored to identify its impacts, therefore, prevent any disasters that would have occurred. Responsibility has to be identified to ensure that adequate resources are applied in all departments, disaster analysis is clearly defined and updated from time to time, and all projects are evaluated for their disaster potential. Moreover, past hazard logs must be preserved and used as a reference when operational experience is gained.

For NASA to accomplish its mission and vision, it must, at all times, maintain a diverse, skilled, and results-oriented staff. The organization has to manage its workforce effectively for it to meet its changing objectives, as it is faced with numerous complex programs and developments. The organization should, therefore, employ and retain highly specialized skills for it to sustain and improve its current capabilities (McCurdy, 2008). This can be done by making the terms of employment at the organization attractive so as to motivate and, hopefully, keep talented and highly skilled employees.


Disasters involving ineffective decision making may also arise from inadequate control of the process of development. This means that if disaster is not effectively managed in its development and implementation process, management within an organization has the duty of imposing control. Disasters may occur in cases of inadequate control in the decision making process. The process that may lead to the occurrence of a disaster exists when an adaptive feedback function fails to achieve safety when performance keeps changing within an organization in order to achieve set goals and objectives. A disaster results from inefficient control of safety constraints on the design, implementation and operation of projects.

Organizational design and decision making process can be modeled to prevent disasters. Most disasters result from the change of an organization into a state of poor performance as organizational principles and controls are ignored due to management issues. In such cases, some events may occur which may trigger a disaster.

Establishing metrics and safeguards will help an organization to detect a probability of risk before a disaster occurs. The process of applying relevant principles will play an immense role in preventing disasters. An effective risk analysis will play an enormous role in identifying leading indicators. Various problems led to NASA’s operational and management difficulties with the shuttle challenger launch process. The organization continued to face management issues due to poor communication and decision making. Relevant principles of management can be applied to ensure an increasingly conscious process of operational decision making and cost effectiveness within the organization.


Hoffman, E. J. (1994). Issue in NASA Program and Project Management. Web.

McCurdy, E. H. (2008). Lessons from the Past: How NASA’s Early Culture Informs Current Challenges. NASA ASK Magazine, 32, 5-22.

National Research Council Committee for the Review of NASA’s Revolutionize Aviation Program. (2004). Review of NASA’s Aerospace Technology Enterprise: An Assessment of NASA’s Aeronautics Technology Programs. Washington, DC National Academies Press.

Rosenthal, U. & Pijnenburg, B. (1991). Crisis Management and Decision Making: Simulation Oriented Scenarios. Bopston, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

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