"Organizational Communication as Technical Management:
Wernher von Braun's Principles and Practices at the Marshall Space Flight Center"

Phillip K. Tompkins, University of Colorado at Boulder
Phillip K. Tompkins
Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado at Boulder


Before turning him loose to research the organization, the Director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), Wernher von Braun, explained his own ideas about organizational communication to the author. These principles and practices included the following: the Earthquake Prediction System, the Monday Notes, Automatic Responsibility, and Penetration. The author employed in-depth interviews with MSFC managers, asking "what works well and what doesn't?" Some serious problems of communication were uncovered; they, and recommendations for dealing with them, were reported back to the communication system along with those practices that contributed to the organization's successes. Von Braun also asked the author to study various communication schemes as ways of reorganizing MSFC for the Post-Apollo period. Taken together, the organization's practices of organizational communication constitute a theory of organization and decision-making, and an effective approach to the management of risk. The author will mention well-know theories of his that were inspired by his research at MSFC and will conclude with his thesis that communication is the geometry of human organization.

Presentation: tompkins_p.ppt

Paper: tompkins_paper.doc


2005 MAPLD International Conference - Session G
"Digital Engineering and Computer Design: A Retrospective and Lessons Learned for Today's Engineers"

2005 MAPLD International Conference Home Page