Rapid Engagement for Accelerated Learning at NASA: The REAL Knowledge Model
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Rapid Engagement for Accelerated Learning at NASA: The REAL Knowledge Model

Ed Hoffman, Chief Knowledge Officer, NASA and Jon Boyle, Deputy Chief Knowledge Officer, NASA
Ed Hoffman, Chief Knowledge Officer, NASA

Ed Hoffman, Chief Knowledge Officer, NASA

NASA’s Recipe to Achieve Mission Success

The driving motivation for Agency knowledge services is mission success. This involves unique requirements, solutions, and expertise shared across NASA individuals, teams, projects, programs, Mission Directorates, and Centers. Both codified knowledge (represented by scientific knowledge, engineering and technical knowledge, and business processes) and knowhow (represented by techniques, processes, procedures and craftsmanship) are critical for mission success.

Systems Perspective:
NASA experience suggests a knowledge systems perspective can better uncover and define relationships and risks inherent in project interfaces. Strategic imperatives based on this systems perspective helps NASA understand where it is today and how these lessons can perhaps inform knowledge efforts in other technical project organizations. These twelve (12) mutually reinforcing imperatives guide the overall KS effort for NASA (discussed in no particular order of priority).

1. Leadership begins with insight that things should change, but recognizes reasons for change may be clear to leaders but not to others. Successful implementation involves a carefully articulated vision, focus on that vision, and attention-to-detail during implementation.

2. It is a Project World. Project Management (PM) is an adaptable discipline that best maximizes use of learning to promote efficiency and effectiveness.

3. Talent addresses the specification, identification, nurture, transfer, maintenance, and expansion of expertise and competence.

4. Portfolio Management integrates projects with strategy and drives organizational purpose and activities, promulgating a systems view of knowledge that transcends boundaries and produces new cross-disciplinary knowledge.

5. Certification provides objective, validated standards and functions for defined categories of practitioner performance and capability, providing a way to establish trust, a framework for adapting to change, and a roadmap for individual development that links organizational performance and individual capability.

6. As the network of portfolio sponsors, project team-members, customers, stakeholders, strategic partners, suppliers, and other interested parties tie into strategy and project operations through information and communication technology tools, Transparency becomes vital since nothing is hidden for long and errors travel at the speed of light.Jon Boyle, Deputy Chief Knowledge Officer, NASA

7. Frugal Innovation views constraints as opportunities in an environment of restricted and diminished resources, leverages sustainability, drives a focus on core competencies, and reduces complexity.

8. Accelerated Learning employs digital technologies, knowledge-sharing, learning strategies, social media processes and tools, and cross-discipline knowledge towards the broadest possible view of learning.

9. A Problem-centric Approach emphasizes non-partisan, non-biased, non-judgmental, and pragmatism towards opportunities and solutions, keeping the focus on achievement, improvement, innovation and invention.

10. Governance, Business Management and Operations provide for effective and efficient alignment, oversight, approvals, implementation of project operations, and establishes rigorous processes in those operations.

11. Digital Technology opens new frontiers of potential knowledge and enables access across multiple sources of data and information, resulting in open, social network-centric, nonproprietary, adaptable, and flexible frameworks that accelerate learning processes.

12. Knowledge itself is an organized set of content, skills, and capabilities gained through experience as well as through formal and informal learning that organizations and practitioners apply to make sense of new and existing data and information.

The REAL Knowledge Model:
The NASA CKO Office developed the Rapid Engagement through Accelerated Learning (REAL) Knowledge model (Figure 1) in response to these aforementioned strategic imperatives. It is a descriptive practitioner-centered model emphasizing an organizational knowledge systems perspective that better negotiates rapid change and accelerated learning in data-rich complex project environments and can better accommodate complex organizational strategies.

At the core of the REAL Knowledge model are the operational KS cycle activities of Capture, Share, and Discover, each paired with an effectiveness measure. For example: Capturing knowledge is the action and Retaining is the measure; Sharing knowledge is the action and Applying is the measure; and Discovering is the action and Creating is the measure. Surrounding the KS core activities are the Individual/Team Knowledge factors and the Organizational/Societal Expectations that affect the journey of the Challenge/Opportunity from inception through the knowledge cycle to successful project outcomes. Bi-directional process arrows indicate influence and input. In describing the REAL Knowledge model, this top-level snapshot serves to illustrate a progression of activity:

1. The organization selects and prioritizes a Challenge/ Opportunity.

2. A learning plan that compliments the project charter and project plan is initiated.

3. Communities of practice are recruited with points of contact.

4. The KS cycle is supported by specific learning strategies, methods, models, and technology tools to better define the opportunity; aggregate the data, information and knowledge; inform the alternatives for project decisions; provide appropriate environments to spur and support innovation and invention through Discovery and Creation; and support implementation through knowledge support as the project proceeds through the lifecycle.

5. Individual and Team Knowledge is leveraged, encouraged, supported and enhanced through KS activities. 6. Expectations are identified and operationalized into objective definitions of performance and are communicated.

Final Thoughts:
The REAL Knowledge model identifies and describes the interfaces, variables and components of the project knowledge environment. Future research will address how organizations and practitioners can better leverage services to get things done:

1. What are the characteristics of challenges and opportunities that achieve organizational and individual commitment, align individual and organizational agendas, and promote effective project management?

2. How should organizations best address talent development?

3. What are the metrics and measures that best capture effectiveness and efficiency in knowledge processes and outcomes?

4. Can biases and heuristics that drive organizational and societal expectations be identified and addressed to inform how organizations can make better decisions and design better measures?

5. What are the operational definitions and certification parameters of knowledge behaviors for project practitioners for talent development and requirements?

6. How can characteristics that make data and information searchable and findable be operationalized to requirements and behaviors?

7. How do knowledge services and accelerated learning reduce complexity?  

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