AMU Editor's Pick Original Space

Lessons from an Astronaut: Success Comes from Seeking Continuous Improvement

By In Space News Staff

For those interested in pursuing a career in the space field — whether you want to become an astronaut or are more interested in a technical or scientific role — it’s important to remember you’re part of a bigger team and the work you do matters.

Your contribution, regardless of how small, could actually be the difference between mission success and mission failure. Therefore, it’s critical to not only do your job well but to always seek ways to improve your performance and the performance of the team, said former astronaut Dr. James Reilly.

Dr. Reilly spent 13 years working for NASA as an astronaut. He traveled into space on three missions and completed five spacewalks. During a presentation, Dr. Reilly talked about the need for those who work in the space field to embrace an attitude of continuous improvement.

Find Ways for Continuous Improvement as a Team and Individual

The principle of continuous improvement means finding better ways to perform. From a team perspective, this means improving processes, procedures and tools to better execute a plan. In order for a team to improve its performance, individual team members must also embrace an attitude of personal improvement.

Such an attitude requires team members to be flexible, adaptable and open-minded as they seek better ways to do things. Individuals must be extremely detail-oriented, communicate well with others and question why things are done in a certain way.

One way to formalize the continuous improvement process is through what Reilly refers to as PBED, which stands for plan, brief, execute and debrief. Going through these four steps to evaluate a plan and how it worked helps solidify the process in the minds of members and also clarifies how the team needs to re-plan or adjust the original plan. The result is continuous improvement, both in the performance by the team as well as in the individual actions of members.

One of the greatest benefits of embracing a continuous improvement approach is that it truly engages team members. The process keeps team members accountable, involved in the plan and alert to potential ways to make things better. It can also help reduce complacency that too often affects individuals. Reilly noted that team members can get caught up in or pressured into trying to “check the box” on tasks and assignments, rather than assessing the step and how it fits with the larger plan.

When team members are encouraged to continuously improve by critically evaluating their roles and tasks, actively communicating with others, and seeking better ways of doing things, they’re more likely to contribute to enhanced team performance and the success of the mission at hand.

Wes O’Donnell is an Army and Air Force veteran and writer covering military and tech topics. As a sought-after professional speaker, Wes has presented at U.S. Air Force Academy, Fortune 500 companies, and TEDx, covering trending topics from data visualization to leadership and veterans’ advocacy. As a filmmaker, he directed the award-winning short film, “Memorial Day.”

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