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WHAT This Opportunity Is About


The First Thing You Need To Know...

By preparing and submitting a proposal to NMB'01, you and your teammates will develop a framework ("architecture") for integrating NASA "Customer Engagement" processes into real space mission planning. "Customer engagement" is the process by which NASA determines what within its mission constitutes value to its customers, and then shapes its programs and activities to deliver it.1

If your team is among the six selected as Finalists, you and your teammates will employ that framework to develop Customer Engagement "User Requirements" for NASA's newly announced proposed Mars missions over the two decades.

The Second Thing You Need To Know: "There Are No 'Right' Answers."

As you consider whether to compete, please keep in mind that the development and use of a Mars Exploration Customer Engagement Architecture represents new territory for NASA. There are no "right" or "wrong" answers. There are only "good" and "better" answers.

Why an Architecture for NASA Mars Customer Engagement?

There are two important, and new, reasons. The combination presents you with the opportunity to make a real contribution to the space program!

Reason No. 1: New Mars Mission Program

At a press conference held at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on October 26, 2000, a decision was announced to establish a high-level effort within NASA to develop an "mission architecture"2 for its recently announced 20-year Mars Exploration Program.

Reason No. 2: Mission-Mandatory Customer Engagement

In the recently-adopted 2000 Strategic Plan of NASA's Human Exploration & Development Strategic Enterprise, Customer Engagement was made a mandatory element of space mission planning.3 This new development involves the expansion of NASA's long-standing practice of deriving Mars mission design requirements from science and human exploration goals. NASA mission planners are now to consider Customer Engagement goals as a third source of equal stature to the other two.

Your Proposal

In deciding to compete, your team's first task is to write an essay setting forth a design for the Customer Engagement Architecture of the new Mars Exploration Program. This mandatory Architecture is defined as "a framework within which NASA will develop and use tools to engage the customers of its recently announced 20-year Mars Exploration Program."

Your Essay's Structure4

We request that your essay contain at least the following three sections:

1. Problem DefinitionThe Problem Definition is a clear and concise statement of need.
2. Primary ObjectivesThe Primary Objectives are the main goals that you want the Architecture to accomplish.
3. Key RequirementsThe key requirements are the attributes and capabilities that the Architecture must possess - the "mandatorys" or "needs." The aesthetics and other non-critical requirements should also be established as "preferences" or "wants." (All designs must satisfy the "needs," but might not satisfy all of the "wants.")

For each non-critical requirement, there should be a "figure of merit" (FOM). For example, is low cost worth the same to the customer as high quality, or is it more/less important? These FOMs will help NASA mission planners pick among alternative designs by weighing the requirements and making tradeoffs (a/k/a "trade studies"). A simple 1-5 scale could be used to quantify your FOM values.

Your Essay's Context5

Identification in your essay of the Problem Definition, Primary Objectives and Key Requirements sets the stage for the identification and exploration of specific Functional Requirements6 during the Finalists' Competition, which will take place in the Spring 2001 semester (see below).

With these Functional Requirements in hand, NASA mission planners (and, we suspect, students in future NASA Means Business competitions) will explore and define alternative concepts to design a comprehensive Mars Exploration Program Customer Engagement Plan and its constituent programs.

Premises With Which to Start Your Thinking

As a starting point, we offer you the following premises, developed thus far within NASA, underlying its Customer Engagement goals (please feel free to accept, reject, modify, or supplement as your professional judgment dictates):

  • A central element of a Customer Engagement program is Communication - an activity that informs, interests and excites, and is a prelude to delivering value.

  • Delivery of value requires an understanding of what constitutes value, and to whom. It requires a careful assessment of customers, stakeholders and value areas. Delivery of value requires intentional and deliberate action based on this assessment.

  • The concept of "customer" is meaningful and must be defined in such a way that what constitutes value can be determined.

  • A specific customer is any person or group who expends some effort or resource to receive value from NASA. Their effort can range from writing a letter to developing a payload to fly on the Shuttle or Space Station. NASA's delivery of value, both in content and the delivery mechanisms involved, should be tailored to the customer's definition of value.

  • Customers are also defined in terms of customer segments, groupings of people meeting four criteria: adequate size, measurable, accessible, and distinguishable from other customer segments.

  • Customer is not equivalent to beneficiary. All customers are beneficiaries, not all beneficiaries are customers.

  • Stakeholders are people or entities who have a vested interest in the outcome of NASA programs and activities. Internal and external stakeholders include NASA employees, unions, contractors, advisory groups, the NASA Administrator, Administration, and Congress.

  • Stakeholders constitute a de facto NASA Board of Directors. They expect NASA to determine what constitutes value to its customers and then to deliver it.

  • Mars exploration customer value areas include:

    • Human experience: hope, drama, adventure, entertainment, wonder, excitement, vicarious space travel, etc.;

    • Knowledge: scientific, medical, engineering, and exploration;

    • Space commerce: removing barriers, providing capability and incentives

    • Services: access to space, space platforms, space operations, payload processing, and rocket propulsion testing;

    • Education: support to America's education goals; and,

    • Technology: mission-driven technology, opportunistic transfer of technology to non-mission applications.

Sound familiar? NASA suspects that it may be - by conjuring up concepts, processes and practices like marketing media planning, qualitative and quantitative research, account planning, integrated marketing communications, brand building and team building, marketing and marketing research, theories of persuasive communication and decision-making, performance assessment, and others.

You tell us.


1. "Customer engagement" devolves from the Government Performance and Results Act of 1994 (GPRA). The GPRA was enacted to improve the efficiency of all Federal agencies and sets the following specific goals:
  • Improve Federal program management, effectiveness, and public accountability;
  • Improve congressional decision-making regarding where to commit the Nation's financial and human resources; and,
  • Improve citizen confidence in Government performance.
The Act directs NASA and other Executive Branch agencies to develop a customer-focused strategic plan, including implementation strategies.

2. As used by NASA, "architecture" means the framework and processes within which a mission is designed. NASA develops a "Mission Architecture" for a specific mission or program (i.e., a set of missions) according to the rigorous practices of systems engineering.

3. Goal 5, entitled "Share the Experience and Benefits of Discovery," of the 2000 Strategic Plan of NASA's Human Exploration & Development of Space (HEDS) Strategic Enterprise articulates the Agency's goals for Customer Engagement. As of the release date of the NMB'01 Competition Guidelines, the 2000 HEDS Strategic Plan is available only in paper form. In the near future, it will also be available in a PDF format from the NASA Office of Policy and Plans web site (http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/codez/plans.html).

4. Based on excerpts from B. Erwin, "K-12 Education and Systems Engineering: A New Perspective;" paper presented during 1998 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference and Exposition, session 1280.

5. See footnote 4.

6. There are five main types of Functional Requirements: performance, safety, regulatory, cost, and infrastructure.

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NASA Means Business Student Competition 2001 is sponsored by NASA and is administered by Texas Space Grant Consortium.


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Last Modified: Mon Nov 13, 2000
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