Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Topics: Risk management, Risk, Decision making Pages: 5 (1710 words) Published: October 2, 2013
Jet Propulsion Laboratory Harvard Business School Case 9-110-031 1.1 Should Gentry Lee recommend launch or delay for the Mars Biological Explorer (MBE) mission?
Gentry Lee should recommend the launch for the MBE mission. As stated in the case study, Gentry Lee is introduced to the project with a significant amount of experience working with NASA and interplanetary exploration missions (Kaplan and Mikes, 2010). Multiple review boards took place to discuss in detail the consequences and likelihood of risks occurring. Tiger teams were established to find resolutions to existing problems weeks before the launch date. The case study eludes to a high probability of the budget increasing if the launch is delayed, and the probability the mission would not be successful was low. Because of this, Gentry Lee should recommend the launch of the MBE mission.

1.2 What are the most important factors to consider in this mission? JPL invested substantial time “Identifying, measuring, and applying risk factors against the value opportunity and the cost of failure” (VMware 2013). This methodology was a key process to deciding to launch or delay the launch of MBE. One factor that had an impact is regarding the current team members. Because CalTech operated Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), it is likely that the majority of engineers part of the mission team, were new graduates from CalTech. At that moment in the project life cycle, engineers have been in place for years and gained knowledge and experience that were vital to the project. If the launch is delayed there is a possibility the team members will change due to contract changes and company attrition and/or employee turnover. Along with the team members changing, technology is advancing, “Newer technologies had evolved since the project had started four years ago” (Kaplan and Mikes, 2010). Although additional testing and development can occur during the delay, it should be considered and asked if the technologies in place, along with instruments and current system designs, are able to support the technological advances that have or will occur. Has the technology advanced faster than the current instruments and system designs? Ultimately, this will have an impact on the project schedule as well. Along with technological and human resources, the budget is another factor to consider in the decision making process. As stated in the case study, a launch delay can add 20% to 40% increase in cost to the entire project.

2.1 Identify the principle risk management processes used in the MBE project. The principle risk management processes are the risk review boards. Boards are used to discuss the risks that have occurred throughout the project. The team members consist of 12 people from JPL, NASA and the main contractor for the project. They are all experts in their field and are highly respected. The members are also not directly involved with the project however; it was believed that each member could contribute to making important decisions even though they are not directly linked to the current mission. The risk review teams met three times to discuss identified risks. During each meeting the team members argued, challenged, and debated over each risk to determine if the risk will in fact support the mission. The review boards discuss and identify risks that are believed to be the most critical and classify them as either a mission risk or an implementation risk. During this review process, each team member presents the risk and participates in the debate and discussions. The risk review boards also define time and cost reserves for the project. According to the case study the reserves provide a bumper for parts of the project that can go wrong, while still allowing those parts to continue to move forward and meet its intended goal (Kaplan and Mikes, 2010).

2.2 What Role does each play, and what is critical for success?

2.2.1 What is the role of the risk review board?

References: Kaplan, R. & Mikes, A. (2010). Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Harvard Business School.
Marks, N. (2013, June 25). What makes an effective Chief Risk Officer. Retrieved from
Price Waterhouse Coopers. (2008). Retrieved from:
Redmill, F. (2002). Risk Analysis – A subjective Process. Engineering Management Journal
VMware, Inc. (2013). How Risk Analysis Streamlines Decision Making for Major IT Initiatives [White
paper].Retrieved from
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