Orion Shield Project Case sample essay

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In this paper, The Orion Shield Project is critically analyzed to determine how effective the project manager, Mr. Gary Allison, is in operating as leader. Specifically, the paper focuses on what technical, ethical, legal, contractual, and other managerial issues plague the success of The Orion Shield Project. The paper attempts to analyze these issues by first introducing the reader to background about the project, and then moving into a deeper discussion of every one of the previously mentioned issues. Due to the individuals he works with and the differing situations he is placed, Mr. Allison must make difficult decisions at every corner. After examining the project, it is found that Mr. Allison can improve his responses to these issues by accounting for the complexities of dealing with technology, becoming more solid in his ethical stance, understanding law and contracts and how they relate to the project, and connecting better with his team.

There are many nuances to project management which can negatively affect a manager or project. The Orion Shield Project exemplifies why proper management is integral to any successful project. The project is a venture that NASA is promoting in order to improve the structural capabilities of the Shuttle Launch Booster. The prime contractor that NASA is using for this project is the Space Technologies Institute (STI), who put out a request for proposal (RFP) for a subcontractor to help with this project. SEC won the bid to become the subcontractor on this project, and the Director of Engineering, Mr. Henry Larsen, appointed Mr. Gary Allison as the project manager (The Orion Shield Project, 2003). As The Orion Shield Project advances, many issues arise which forces Mr. Allison to make difficult decisions. In this paper, I will critically analyze the issues Mr. Allison faces while managing The Orion Shield Project. In critically examining the way The Orion Shield Project is handled, I will touch on the technical, ethical, legal, contractual, and other management issues faced by Mr. Allison and analyze both his positive and negative actions in an effort to gain a better understanding of how project management plays a role in the outcome of this project.

Technical Issues
The Orion Shield Project gives rise to many technical issues which Mr. Allison has to navigate as he manages the project. The technical issues that specifically alter the integrity of the project are incapable components and a poorly designed test matrix. Incapable components present issues all throughout the project, with the most glaring problems occurring in the beginning and end of the project. The original technical specification that STI listed in their RFP was that all components must be able to operate efficiently between temperature ranges of -65 degrees F to 145 degrees F (The Orion Shield Project, 2003). This was an issue for the SEC project because testing within the company shows that their current component design would not function above 130 degrees F, and that the requirements would not be able to be met without different materials (The Orion Shield Project, 2003). This creates an issue for a bevy of reasons, including throwing off the timeline, the amount of resources used, and commitments to stakeholders.

While performing final tests on the component as the project was coming to a close it was found that the product was again not up to the specifications requested in the RFP. The purpose of The Orion Shield Project was to get the Shuttle Launch Booster to support an age life of at least 9 years, and after testing it was found that the age life would most likely be less than 5 years. This is actually less than what the original component NASA was using lasted, which was 6 years (The Orion Shield Project, 2003). Both of these points in the project are technical issues Mr. Allison is responsible for overcoming as project manager of The Orion Shield Project.

In addition to the aforementioned technical issues, Mr. Allison also deals with a test matrix in the technical volume of the proposal which will not produce acceptable results. The test matrix is “an effective way of recording the coverage of the scope delivered” (Boyde, 2012, p. 701). From this matrix, you should be able to tell what has been implemented, what has yet to be implemented, and what was determined to be out of scope for the current milestone release (Boyde, 2012, p. 701). Realizing the importance of the test matrix, Mr. Allison echoes his concern to his Chief Project Engineer Ms. Paula Arnold, who warned him around changing the test matrix and scope of the work. This would in turn affect the cost of the project which is not viable due to the nature of the contract that SEC is working under.

Instead of addressing this issue up front and trying to find a way to trim some work off downstream to keep the budget manageable, Mr. Allison pushes on for three more weeks until the test matrix and research results are ultimately deemed unacceptable. This puts Mr. Allison and his team in a deeper hole and extends their timeline, while also projecting a sense of disarray when meeting with their stakeholders. In analyzing this project, it seems that the technical issues Mr. Allison was faced with while managing The Orion Shield Project amounted to three major sources, technology interdependence, technology novelty, and external factors. Technology interdependence refers to requirement of different expertise to perfect a final product (Hussein, Pigagaite & Silva, 2014, p. 706). One of the difficult duties that comes with managing is understanding how different elements of a project interact with each other, and how to get the elements to work together in an efficient manner. If Mr. Allison got better with technology interdependencies, he would have been able to establish a more effective test matrix.

Technology novelty is one of the biggest culprits for the technical issues Mr. Allison faced in The Orion Shield Project. Technology novelty refers to the idea that “no matter how much planning you do beforehand, when you assemble a final product – or even a part of it – testing will always reveal problems” (Hussein, Pihahaite & Silva, 2014, p. 706). In production, you should always assume that something can, and will go wrong. In reading The Orion Shield Project case, its glares out that Mr. Allison does not have a contingency plan built it, and did not allow himself enough time to tinker with the project to get it right. This in turn led to a lot of sleepless, stressful nights and still an insufficient, unacceptable product and project.

The final sources of technical issues which are found to be relevant to Mr. Allison’s management case are external factors. Factors such as pressure from Mr. Larsen to force SEC into The Orion Shield Project and pressure from Ms. Sarah Wilson, a representative from STI, to stick to the schedule SEC proposed, led to many of the poor technical decisions Mr. Allison makes. Mr. Larsen’s pressure on The Orion Shield Project leads to Mr. Allison making false promises and trying to cover his traces throughout the entire project. This in turn leads to a strained relationship with Ms. Wilson, who pushes Mr. Allison to take on more of an administrative role, instead of the research focused position he prefers. In the end, Mr. Allison could have mitigated all of the external issues by maintaining a strict ethical code in his actions, which delves into the ethical issues he faces in managing this project.

Ethical Issues
Out of all the issues presented in The Orion Shield Project, the ethical issues seem to be the most devastating to the success of the project. The specific moments in which ethical issues arise all seem to occur within some type of interaction with Mr. Larsen. The first and most important of which occurs when Mr. Allison raises concerns with Mr. Larsen about the specifications that STI put out for the components. Mr. Larsen’s response to this concern was to lie to STI and express in the proposal that SEC had the capabilities to make a component that would go above and beyond the specifications required. Specifically, Mr. Larsen advocated that Mr. Allison say that SEC had a component design that would operate at up to 155 degrees F in hopes of later cornering STI into accepting the actual specifications that the SEC component could handle.

Deceiving a partner about what you can provide them just to earn a contract or project is unethical on many levels. In an article written by Dr. Thomas Mengel (2006), communication between project stakeholders and project management is found to be extremely important. The article goes further to say that “project managers need to comprehensively determine the impact of any decision to be made” (Mengel, 2006, p. 230). Mr. Allison did not think this situation with Mr. Larsen all the way through, and because of that not only did technical issues arise, but an ethical one as well. An ethical issue which Mr. Allison also has to deal with is the testing of new materials without his knowledge. After Ms. Wilson met with Mr. Allison and displayed her angst with how the administrative side of the project was going, Mr. Allison focuses more of his time and effort with the administrative tasks.

This gives Mr. Larsen time to move in and work with Ms. Arnold on a new material, using more STI money in the process when the contract and Ms. Wilson specifically state that SEC would bear all costs of additional research beyond the original scope of work (The Orion Shield Project, 2003). It is understandable that Mr. Larsen is Mr. Allison’s boss and he does not always need to tell him what he is doing, but with a venture as big as this and with Mr. Allison being the project manager and the one ultimately responsible for results, it seems ethical to discuss these major decisions. One way Mr. Allison could have addressed this issue could have occurred before agreeing to accept this position and project. While Mr. Larsen was originally describing the position to Mr. Allison, Mr. Allison could have requested to include ethic checks in decision making processes and to “define a joint process and mutually agreeable criteria for ethical decision making” (Mengel, 2006, p. 231).

This would help Mr. Allison set parameters around his interactions with Mr. Larsen. He could then use these well-defined parameters as a basis to disagree with an action or even refuse an action Mr. Larsen proposes if unethical. In failing to do so, Mr. Allison allows these unethical procedures to ultimately fall on his shoulders. An ethical issue which falls directly on the shoulders of Mr. Allison occurs when he withholds information from upper management about the short age life of the component near the end of the project. The ethical dilemma is clear here and could have far reaching damages for both SEC and STI. Mr. Allison should have told upper management as soon as testing shows the shorter age life of the component. No matter how difficult it is, maintaining an ethical code is essential to the proper management of not only projects but organizations as well.

Legal & Contractual Issues
The Orion Shield Project exposes SEC to a variety of legal issues, some coming from managements own unethical actions and many more coming from contractual complications. The initial legal issue that arises from The Orion Shield Project occurs when SEC responds to the RFP issued by STI. When Mr. Larsen requests for Mr. Allison to make the proposal reflect that SEC’s component can operate at up to 155 degrees F, when in actuality it cannot operate above 130 degrees F, SEC breaches the RFP contract. At first glance you may not think a RFP is legally binding, but according to legal precedent it is. In the 1981 case of R. (Ontario) V. Ron Engineering, it was found that RFP’s are part of a two part contract, and that they are the bidding portion of the contract. What this means is that once a proposal is presented in response to a RFP, both sides are now legally tied to the contract and must abide by the terms stipulated in that proposal (The Legal Implications,” 2012). In providing false promises in their proposal, Mr. Allison and SEC open themselves up to sanctions and being sued.

Mr. Allison and SEC also open themselves up for legal action when they breach the firm-fixed-price (FFP) contract they agreed to with STI. As defined by Charles Russell Jr. and Susan Moser (2009) in Firm-Fixed-Price Contracting: The time and Materials Requirements Dilemma, a FFP is “a completion contract,” which means that “profit or fee is earned by the delivery of end items” (p.46). FFP’s also carry fixed prices and leave little room for adjustments as the project moves along. The fixed price and the need to make adjustments as the project went along are what opened SEC up to legal action. Ms. Wilson from STI specifically mentioned that after the first test matrix failed and a new one was developed, all additional research and development would be at the expense of SEC. But, when Mr. Larsen and Ms. Arnold began developing the new material for the component they used STI funding for it. This again was a breach of contract, and by not addressing this issue Mr. Allison left SEC vulnerable to being dropped from the contract and sued for the wrong use of project funding.

One way Mr. Allison could have avoided this situation would be to push for a different type of contract from STI for The Orion Shield Project. In an article written by Frank Kendall (2013) on the uses of FFP contracts, the restricting nature of the contract is described in great detail. Kendall describes how FFP contracts tend to restrict flexibility as contractors learn more “about what is feasible and affordable as well as what needs to be done to achieve a design that meets requirements during a product’s design and testing phases” (Kendall, 2013, p. 2). Mr. Allison experiences this dilemma all too much as he runs The Orion Shield Project. A FFP contract was the perfect contract for STI; FFP contracts offer the lowest risk to the buyer due to the fact that it is not subject to any cost adjustments resulting from contractors carrying out the project (Russell Jr. & Moser, 2009, p.47).

Instead of agreeing to such a rigid contract when you know your component will need multiple tests to meet specifications, SEC and Mr. Allison should have instead pushed for a more flexible contract like a time-and-materials (T&M) contract. A time and materials contract can be used when the duration, extent of effort, and costs associated with a project are generally unknown up front (Russell Jr. & Moser, 2009, p. 47). This contract would be more beneficial to SEC and Mr. Allison specifically when he changes the test matrix, and has to find new materials and incur more costs to complete the project. In the end, Mr. Allison mishandles many issues which leave himself and SEC vulnerable to legal action, luckily no such action occurs.

Other Management Issues
Separate from the main issues discussed earlier in this paper, there are also other, more managerial issues. The two other management issues that are present in The Orion Shield Project are staffing concerns and employee motivation. Mr. Allison’s first dilemma while working The Orion Shield Project is finding the staff he wants to help him with the venture. He is not given top priority in picking his staff, which make it difficult to get the key people necessary to ensure a smoothly run project. Many managers do not want to give up their main people, but with the help of Mr. Larsen he finds an “adequate” staff to fill in (The Orion Shield Project, 2003). This puts Mr. Allison in a dilemma because he does not have the option of working with the people he feels most comfortable with. Being uncomfortable while leading a project can do nothing but have negative effects on results. This also leads to Mr. Allison putting the burden of doing most of the work on his self, instead of leveraging his team better. Since this is a situation most project managers will have to deal with on their first project, Mr. Allison could have done a better job utilizing his staff to create more positive project results.

As The Orion Shield Project progresses, many of the members of the project team lose motivation to work on the project. The lack of team motivation came from the teams dissipating trust in Mr. Allison and the plans they were told would be final. Also, a lack of communication leads to heightened tension between the team. As Dorothy Ann Brenner (2007) points out in a recent article, communication, no matter what the form, helps with team chemistry and “gives them a clearer idea of their roles and what is expected of them so they understand their goals, as well as the team’s overall goal for a successful project” (p.19). Mr. Allison’s lack of communication with his team leads to certain members feeling out of the loop and disappointed with the direction of the project. In order for the Orion Shield Project to have even had a chance of working effectively, Mr. Allison has to motivate his project team so they will give their best effort and work (Brenner, 2007, p. 16).

As The Orion Shield Project progressed from the initial proposal to the final testing, issues seemed to arise around every corner. Mr. Allison had to make serious decisions at every level of the project and unfortunately many of those decisions were the wrong ones. Mr. Allison made critical mistakes when faced with technical, ethical, legal, contractual, and other managerial issues. After analyzing The Orion Shield Project case, findings show that Mr. Allison could improve his responses to these issues by accounting for the complexities of dealing with technology, becoming more solid in his ethical stance, understanding law and contracts and how they relate to the project, and connecting better with his team. In conclusion, Mr. Allison did not perform well in his first opportunity to operate as project manager, but, with a few tweaks to his approach, he could excel if he ever wanted that opportunity again.


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Hussein, B. A., Pigagaite, G., & Silva, P. P. (2014). Identifying and dealing with complexities in new product and process development projects. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences , doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.03.078

Kendall, F. (2013). Use of fixed-price incentive firm (fpif) contracts in development and production. Defense AT&L, 42(2), Retrieved from http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.umuc.edu

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R. (Ont.) v. Ron Engineering, (1981) 1 S.C.R. 111. Retrieved from: http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/2504/index.do

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The Orion Shield Project — HOME. (2003, January 1). The Orion Shield Project

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