Systems Engineering Seminar

The Architecture for Building a Learning Organization at Goddard

Presented by: Dr. Edward Rogers /170

November 1, 2005, 1:00 p.m.
Building 3 Auditorium

The Architecture for Building a Learning Organization at Goddard

An organizational system can be considered healthy if it is both reliable and sustainable. Unreliable systems have too many errors that could have been avoided. Unsustainable systems are inefficient because of costly replenishment cycles and loss of vision during structural realignments. For example, NASA has been faulted for not functioning as a learning organization by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report (2003).

“As the autumn of 2002 began, both the Space Shuttle and Space Station Programs began to use what some employees termed ‘tricks’ to regain schedule margin. Employees expressed concern that their ability to gain schedule margin using existing measures was waning.”
Section 6.2, Page 134

“NASA structure changed as roles and responsibilities were transferred to contractors, which increased the dependence on the private sector for safety functions and risk assessment while simultaneously reducing the in-house capability to spot safety issues.”
Section 8.5, Page 202

Unpacking what these statements mean leads to analysis of the organization as a system and identification of challenges relating to reliability and sustainability of the NASA organization. In order to address this type of challenge, an organization must build a learning organization culture that improves reliability across all projects and invest in human capital strategies that will assure sustainability in the future. To do so requires monitoring the health of teams, continuously integrating work processes and facilitating the sharing of knowledge within the organization. The approach must connect organizational system health with systems engineering, project management practices and safety in an integrated learning environment.

Managing the interface between humans and machines has taken on new challenges as transactional efficiencies of electronic connectedness offer greater potential for information dissemination. Many knowledge management efforts are focused solely on this transactional efficiency aspect of the problem. Less well understood and certainly not accounted for in most attempts at knowledge management are the human factors that make sharing both possible and worthwhile. However, to build a sustainable learning culture these human factors must be addressed in the architecture of organizational system design to enable learning and sharing.

A learning organization knows how to process knowledge, appreciates the value of shared collective knowledge and grows stronger and more knowledgeable with each activity it performs. It does so because its systems (human and technical) interact in meaningful ways. Data is represented in ways meaningful and useful to humans. Humans interact with each other in ways that stimulate sharing and reapplication of organizational knowledge. The core of an organization’s knowledge resides in the work units and projects where it is being generated. The key to managing knowledge is not to extract it from its origins but to facilitate its use both at the source and within communities of practice across the organization (Wegner, 1998; Rogers, 2004).

To be effective then, knowledge management must go beyond ‘first generation KM characterized by single loop learning. McElroy (1999) concludes that “conventional knowledge management practice, then, boils down to little more than getting the right information to the right people at the right time. Think single-loop learning.” [Italics in original]. Shukla and Srinivasan (2002) go further and state “The purpose of first generation KM programs is to improve operational efficiency of the employees by enhancing access to rule sets.” An effective KM architecture then, must focus on second generation knowledge management that is clearly double-loop learning and includes the what and the why (context) of the knowledge, not just the rules.

For example, part of NASA’s response to a 2002 GAO report was the formation of a NASA Knowledge Management Team chartered to write a KM Strategic Plan for the Agency. Unfortunately, that plan fell short of achieving effective change primarily because it focused exclusively on IT as a KM driver with an over-emphasis on capturing knowledge from workers for the organization as opposed to facilitating knowledge sharing among workers. Many KM efforts fail precisely because they “emphasize technology and the transfer of codified knowledge.” (Pfeffer & Sutton, 1999). An organization that isn’t sure of its knowledge use will be hesitant to move forward, fearful of repeating an avoidable mistake.

A healthy organizational learning system lends confidence to attempt new things because newness is just another learning opportunity. This is goal of building a learning organization at Goddard. To do so, we must have an architecture and a plan for achieving the intermediary steps. This talk will outline that plan and the progress being made toward making Goddard an effective learning organization that manages and applies all of its knowledge toward achieving mission success.




Photo of Rogers Dr. Edward Rogers is the Knowledge Management Architect at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt Maryland. He received a Ph.D. from Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations focusing on the role of cooperation in high tech firms. In the early 1980s he performed five years of international relief work in Southern Lebanon. Prior to returning to academic work at Cornell, Dr. Rogers operated a private consulting practice focused on knowledge workers and intelligent enterprise. His research and publications apply game theory models to human behavior in organizations. He has consulted with a number of organizations on building conceptual transparency and leveraging collective knowledge. Before joining NASA he taught strategic management and entrepreneurship at Cornell, Duke, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville



Selected Works

  • Rogers, E. W. (2004). The role of perceptions of reciprocity in achieving cooperative knowledge behavior in high tech firms. Journal of High Technology Management Research. Vol. 15/1 pp. 17-36.
  • Rogers, E. W. & Col (Ret) Birmingham R. P. (2004). A Ten Year Review of the Vision for Transforming the Defense Acquisition System. Defense Acquisition Review Journal, Defense Acquisition University, Ft. Belvoir, VA. 11/1 p36-61.
  • Rogers, E. W. (2002). Measuring Organizational Communication Health at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Working paper released within NASA and presented at the Annual Academy of Management Meetings in Seattle, August 2003.
  • Rogers, E. W. (2001). A theoretical look at firm performance in high tech organizations: What does existing theory tell us?. Journal of High Technology Management Research. Vol. 12: pp. 39-61.
  • Rogers, E. W. & Wright, P., (1998). Measuring organizational performance in strategic human resource management: Problems, prospects and performance information markets. Human Resource Management Review. Vol. 8/3: pp. 311-331.
  • Rogers, E. W. (1998). Enabling innovative thinking: Fostering the art of knowledge crafting. International Journal of Technology Innovation, 16(1/2/3) pp. 11-22.


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