Lessons Learned Program at JPL
JPL management has expressed a strong commitment to identifying, documenting, and infusing lessons learned from flight projects. Lessons learned are critical mission success factors that can provide an effective countermeasure against avoidable risk when communicated and applied to other missions. The JPL lessons learned program is managed by David Oberhettinger within the JPL Office of the Chief Engineer. Beginning in 1984, JPL initiated a formal lessons learned process featuring a Lessons Learned Committee that solicits, validates, and ranks lesson learned candidates; edits the lesson learned text; verifies the event description and recommendations; publishes the final product; and assures that the recommendations are infused into JPL practice.
JPL Lessons Learned Process Flow
Submit a Lesson Learned
If you have a valid lesson learned candidate, and you have time to write up a brief synopsis, please complete this lesson learned template and submit it to the Chair of the Lessons Learned Committee, David Oberhettinger. If you don’t have time to complete the form, please e-mail him a sentence or two that provides a lesson learned statement and one or more recommendations proceeding from the driving event, along with a PFR, report, or presentation that describes the driving event. Subject to committee priorities, he will respond with a draft lesson for your review.
A “valid” lesson learned candidate isan incident that (1) pertains to safety or mission success, (2) is likely to be relevant to other flight projects, and (3) does not duplicate an existing lesson learned published in the NASA Engineering Network (NASA internal). "Positive" events should be considered as well as mishaps.
Principal Features of the JPL Lessons Learned Process
The JPL lessons learned process has two principal characteristics:
- Lessons Learned Committee (LLC). The JPL LLC has met weekly since 1984. Chaired by the Office of the Chief Engineer, it includes representatives from the major JPL technical divisions and from JPL mission assurance. Its primary functions are to (1) identify, validate, and prioritize lesson learned candidates, and (2) perform real-time “wordsmithing” and approval of draft lessons learned.
- Infusion provides a closed-loop to the process that ensures lessons learned do not languish in a database. Lesson learned recommendations are considered to be fully infused into JPL procedures and training when they are cross-referenced with specific paragraphs in the primary JPL engineering standards—the JPL Design Principles and the JPL Flight Project Practices. Each project prepares a compliance matrix against these paragraphs. The lessons learned cross-reference has been brought up to date and vetted by the JPL Engineering Board (JEB).
- In addition, prior to major project milestones, many JPL flight projects perform iterative “self-audits” of their compliance with the 366 JPL and 135 GSFC lessons learned, or a subset of them. However, with the infusion of the lessons learned into institutional practices, a project need not rely upon the proper engineer reading a lesson learned at the proper point in the project life cycle.
Other features of the JPL lessons learned process include:
- Process Documentation. The JPL lessons learned procedures are documented in the JPL Lessons Learned Guideline (DocID 72252).
- Process Documentation. Flight projects are required to submit and use lessons learned. The requirements placed on flight projects to contribute lesson learned candidates, and to review existing lessons learned that have yet to be infused, are identified in the JPL Flight Project Practices (DocID 58032), Paragraph 5.22. In addition, flight projects are encouraged prior to major project milestones to deliver an outbrief to the Laboratory on lessons that were learned.
- LLIS Publication. All JPL lessons learned approved by the LLC are entered into the NASA Lesson Learned Information System (LLIS) - (NASA internal). (There is no separate JPL repository for lessons learned.)
- Lessons Learned Dissemination. The JPL LLC Chair periodically e-mails a summary of recently published JPL lessons learned to the JPL Mission Assurance Managers and Project System Engineers for further dissemination to their projects. In addition, as new NASA Center lessons learned are published in the LLIS, he may e-mail a copy to the appropriate JPL subject matter expert.
- Pause & Learn. When the JPL Project Managers (PMs) meet each quarter, we schedule a PM to tell a story about an incident that would be of interest to the other PMs-- how they solved a problem, and what they might have done differently.