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The Application of Lean Thinking Principles and Kaizen Practices for the Successful
On October 28, 2009 the Ares I-X flight test rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center and flew its suborbital trajectory as designed. The mission was successfully completed as data from the test, and associated development activities were analyzed, transferred to stakeholders, and well documented. A positive lesson learned from Ares I-X was that the application of lean thinking principles and kaizen practices was very effective in streamlining development activities. Ares I-X, like other historical rocket development projects, was hampered by technical, cost, and schedule challenges and if not addressed boldly could have resulted in cancellation of the test. The mission management team conducted nine major meetings, referred to as lean events, across its elements to assess plans, procedures, processes, requirements, controls, culture, organization, use of resources, and anything that could be changed to optimize schedule or reduce risk. The preeminent aspect of the lean events was the focus on value added activities and the removal or at least reduction in non-value added activities. Trained Lean Six Sigma facilitators assisted the Ares I-X developers in conducting the lean events. They indirectly helped formulate the mission’s own unique methodology for assessing schedule. A core team was selected to lead the events and report to the mission manager. Each activity leveraged specialized participants to analyze the subject matter and its related processes and then recommended alternatives and solutions. Stakeholders were the event champions. They empowered and encouraged the team to succeed. The keys to success were thorough preparation, honest dialog, small groups, adherence to the Ares I-X ground rules, and accountability through disciplined reporting and tracking of actions. This lean event formula was game-changing as demonstrated by Ares I-X. It is highly recommended as a management tool to help develop other complex systems efficiently. The key benefits for Ares I-X were obtaining unambiguous schedule margin, defining enabling options for risk reduction, and most importantly a stronger more unified team.
Development and Implementation of the Ares I-X Flight Test Rocket and Mission

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