April 10, 2008
Back on the Air

Now that the current inter-DAC is nearly done, the normally less-nonexistent level of blogging will resume.

Something that puzzles me about Orion, and about aerospace engineering programs in general, is why it seems every last organizational thing has to be reinvented with every new project.

LM has a pretty extensive process documentation organization, which promulgates company-standard procedures for even the most mundane of business activities. It also has a separate organization whose focus is specifically on engineering process improvement, through the creation of CAD tools and processes and the like.

So why, I have to wonder, has every project I have ever worked on with LM (X-33, VentureStar, ET, CEV/Orion, among others) started from scratch with everything from numbering schemes to release processes to configuration management to data vaulting to drawing formats and standards to basic skill mix and team structures? You'd think that after so many decades that a lot of this stuff would have become routine by now -- revised periodically as new technology becomes available, of course, but not built anew every time.

A counter argument to this -- and one I used frequently when confronted with the All-Encompassing Michoud Excuse for Not Improving Processes: "That's the way ET does it" -- is that one ought to take advantage of the start of a new program to incorporate the lessons learned from other programs, thereby continuously improving the way business is done. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a middle ground between status quo and Year Zero when it comes to these things.

If LM were smart, it would set up a "project in a box", with all of the essential organizational elements defined and ready to go. Or rather, a handful of such packages, designed for projects of different sizes, from small R&D efforts up to major production programs.

Posted by T.L. James on April 10, 2008 09:25 PM | TrackBack


This comment makes me laugh. I worked at LMM for a short while (albeit as part of the facilities staff, not an engineer) and when we did even a small job it had to be documented in pentuplicate (5 copies). This was so each individual 'program' within the building could be appropriatley 'billed' for things like - moving cubicle partitions, shelfs, whiteboards, etc. The guys who had been there a while told me that every time a new manager came into a section, they would re-arrange all the cubicles and furniture and re-organize the department to suit themselves. It was all a hugely expensive shell game and I use to shake my head in disgust at the futility of it all. But--- I did learn why it costs so many billions to build satellites and other space hardware. 9,998,999 $ for the program - 1,000$ for the hardware... or something like that :-P. It's wonder that they get anything up there.

Posted by: Will at April 17, 2008 07:41 PM