Project Management: Wernher Von Braun’s Management Style at Marshall Space Flight Center
Wernher von Braun’s Project Management Style at Marshall Space Flight
When Wernher von Braun got recruited into America’s rocket research program in Fort Bliss, he mostly got reunited with the same team he had worked with in Peenemunde, Germany. Perhaps knowing the magnanimity of the project he was heading, Braun adopted a very unique project management style which ensured maximum flexibility and cohesion for his team (Dunar & Waring, 1999). He not only wanted a flexible system that could respond uniquely to various external problems, but also a unified vertical-horizontal process that enhances accessibility. Particularly, he insisted on cooperation and working towards a common agenda (Von Braun, 1952). Bolstered by a common German history and identity, all the new project members accepted themselves as one and they willingly regarded von Braun as their president (Dunar & Waring, 1999). For this reason, he developed a protective leadership where he resented anybody else issuing orders to his subordinates but him.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) demanded that von Braun’s team change its controversial in-house principles because they were opaque, suspicious, ineffective, and unnecessarily hostile. Instead, the organization wanted more formal procedures which could enable information sharing with other military organs. The inadequacy of the in-house approach had become apparent when the Soviets launched Sputnik I in 1957 ahead of the Americans (Kennedy, 2005). Even though van Braun’s team had foreseen the possibility of a space station orbiting the earth many years before, America still seemed to lag behind its arch rivals (Weingardt, 2011). Thus, when NASA was enacted in 1958, it introduced more stringent formal measures such as segmentation of operations. The success of the new approach became visible in 1969 when the U.S. managed to send its first 12 astronauts to the moon (Logsdon, 2008).
Dunar, A. J., & Waring, S. P. (1999). Power to Explore: A History of the Marshall Space Flight Center, 1960-1990.
Kennedy, I. H. (2005). The Sputnik Crisis and America’s Response (Doctoral dissertation, University of Central Florida Orlando, Florida).
Logsdon, J. M. (2008). Project Apollo: Americans to the moon. Exploring the Unknown: Selected Documents in the History of the US. Civil Space Program, 7, 432-434.
Von Braun, W. (1952, October). The early steps in the realization of the space station. In Proceedings. Second Symposium on Space Travel. New York.
Weingardt, R. G. (2011). Wernher von Braun and the race to the moon.Leadership and Management in Engineering, 12(1), 26-36.
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