In the days when the vast array of NASA’s resources was focused on a few longduration
programs (Apollo, Viking, Shuttle), we had the luxury of people sharing
knowledge throughout the program. Engineers and scientists spent years, sometimes
decades, working on a project, learning from the senior members and eventually
mentoring junior team members. As an Agency, our knowledge base and abilities
continued to grow. As we moved to a philosophy of applying the principles of fasterbetter-
cheaper as appropriate, that era of apprenticeship and nurturing of the flow of
experiential and tacit knowledge has become more fractured. In today’s environment,
engineers and scientists may work one to three years on a project and then move on.
Individually they may gain a lot of knowledge, but that knowledge remains with them
and is not captured or passed on broadly for future missions. New employees are
tossed into a maelstrom of project implementation and expected to perform without
any substantial introduction to NASA’s processes, history, culture, and lessons
learned. Rather than advocating a return to days of large projects, knowledge
management principles offers a solution for moving ahead, acknowledging today’s
constraints and adapting to a world where technology and innovative processes must
partially replace the mentoring and measured approaches of the past.
NASA’s knowledge, its intellectual capital, is the Agency’s primary, sustainable
source of competitive advantage. Physical assets age, today’s workforce is mobile, and
technology is quickly bypassed. Our knowledge as an Agency, however, can endure.
This knowledge is a fluid mix of experience and know-how that allows NASA
employees to strive for and achieve the improbable day after day.
Those companies whose cultures promote knowledge sharing and individual
learning have high employee retention, attract high-quality employees, and have a
workforce that focuses on fixing the problem rather than fixing the blame.
Knowledge management is the spark that will ignite our ability to get the most
from the investments we have made in our workforce and information technology, and
to harness the considerable intellectual capital within the Agency and its partners.
Implementations in KM are more than technology thrusts, but will build upon
technology and information to help guide NASA through the intricacies of working
with international teams and making ever-more-complex decisions. We have many of
the key ingredients to making knowledge management succeed—a highly intelligent
workforce, a need to learn in order to succeed, and some solid, technical
The three key areas upon which we need to move forward to more effectively
manage our knowledge are
Capturing more of the critical knowledge NASA needs to safely conduct
Enabling virtual teams to work collaboratively at peak efficiency
Strategic Plan for Knowledge Management 2
Managing more effectively the information we have already captured
If we do not begin to manage our knowledge as an Agency, we will repeat our
mistakes. Worse, we will be destined to never learn from our successes. The gauntlet
thrown down before us is to either deliver our missions from silo’ed organizations…or
to invest the time and money to fly safely and successfully today while leaving a
unique and irreplaceable legacy for the future of NASA and the Nation.