Thursday, September 04, 2008

Case Studies

The Office of the Chief Knowledge Officer (OCKO) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center - where I work - makes extensive use of case studies to facilitate knowledge sharing across missions. These are case studies developed by the OCKO team based on real missions, including some that have not yet launched. The case studies tend to focus on project management rather than technical issues. The technologies and engineering challenges may be complex, and the science questions being asked may be difficult to understand for the average person, but the project management challenges are not that simple either.

The case studies have also been initially written with a specific audience in mind (project managers and their deputies) and with a specific purpose in mind (for use in the context of facilitated workshops). A "case" can be presented in different versions depending on the time allocated in the workshop and the purpose of the use of that case. For example, a short version of a case (one page) can be used as a teaser to introduce a group to case studies before they are presented with a longer case.

In the past few days, I've also come to realize that the younger generation of engineers and future NASA project managers would also greatly benefit from these case studies. Whereas the discussion question for groups of project managers tends to be "What would you do as the PM for this project?", the discussion question for future PMs needs to be adjusted to their current roles. I'm not sure whether the entire case study would need to be rewritten. I've also come to realize that there are dangers in rewriting case studies. The more they are rewritten to suit a particular purpose, the greater the danger of straying away from the real story. The best approach might be to keep the case unchanged but to adjust the facilitation and trigger question that starts the discussions around the case.

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