Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Case Solution

Robert S. Kaplan, Anette Mikes
Harvard Business School ()

The case, in a non-profit project-oriented environment, introduces basic risk management principles and processes that are easily applicable to the private sectors. Gentry Lee, chief systems engineer and de facto chief risk officer, applies a new comprehensive risk management system to a high-profile landing mission on Mars valued at $ 600 million. The case illustrates JPL’s culture of risk of high visibility and costly missions in the PostChallenger era on tight budgets. It introduces risk analysis such as heat maps and the management process and governance system that focus on ongoing challenge and “intellectual confrontation.” Students will consider JPL’s strategy and limitations, measurable technical risks, non-measurable external risks, and societal pressures in making a decision on launching or delaying the launch of the Mars mission. The case requires an appreciation of the role of the chief risk officer and, more generally, of leadership in risk management.

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