We build margins of error in almost everything we do. However, one of the few areas we can’t afford them is when sending humans to space. And hence in preparing to send humans to Mars for the very first time, NASA has turned to people analytics.
I found this article and interview with David Meza, who leads People Analytics at NASA, fascinating for a multitude of reasons. First, he acknowledges the basics – a skill gap that may exist in its ranks since it has been decades since our last manned flight to another celestial body. For an agency like NASA that works with only the best in the space with a deep focus on preparation, this statement may seem counterintuitive. However, the challenges of inter-celestial manned flights are significantly greater than those that NASA has taken on recently. Assessing the skills it houses against those it requires is the most basic and important step in that direction.
Second, NASA employs over 18,000 people with a variety of skill sets. David’s approach, in layman terms, is to build a talent mapping tool that can help managers identify employees with varied and nuanced skills, as well as aid employees in looking for specific roles. Once the broad NASA-wide tool is built and deployed, it then will delve deep into mission specific skills.
While an internal talent marketplace is fairly basic practice in the people analytics function, I would be interested to see the similarity function and graph databases at play. The similarity function takes a step beyond a simple matchmaker database, and automatically compares roles/skills that may be useful.
This may seem straightforward but I believe its anything but. My concern with using only this tool is the unintended filters, biases of a purely algorithmic search. I would be curious to learn how NASA compliments its internal talent marketplace with manual practices.
Lastly, one of the major challenges is the dynamic nature of the work and accelerated timelines that NASA has put forth. It plans a manned flight within the decade. As the challenges and requirements of a first ever trip to Mars increase, it’d be interesting to see the additional tools NASA uses to staff its teams internally.
Additionally, Jane Datta, NASA’s Chief Human Capital Officer, in an interview stated that at the height of the pandemic 90% of its employees worked remotely. I would be interested to see the collaborative tools the people analytics and Human Resources teams build for a hybrid work future for a workplace that’s intuitively meant to be in-person.