The Intersection of Risk Mitigation and Innovation:


The planning and development of the data

management system for Nancy Grace Roman

in a hybrid project management environment



By Erica Kolatch

Maryland, USA


This paper focuses on the intersection of traditional project management and agile development methodologies to satisfy both NASA’s risk mitigation and reporting needs for a “Class A” mission and the Space Telescope Science Institute development team’s needs to explore and develop innovative solutions for ingest, processing, and distribution of data from the future Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope.  This paper will focus on how traditional project management rigor and the agile mindset coexist within the project.  It will show how we have been successful in both involving and insulating our development teams from external project management requirements through the use of processes, tools, and automation, while still allowing for regular NASA and Institute tracking of Earned Value Management and Risk Management.  The tools used are off-the-shelf and the methods used need not be unique to the Institute.  Both can provide a similar framework for other projects facing similar situations. 


The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) has been tasked with leading the Science Operations Center (SOC) for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (Roman).  By contract, STScI is required to work within the constraints of NASA’s project management processes and systems engineering methodology.  Because of the nature of the mission, NASA’s processes and methodologies follow a strictly-sequenced process.  The mission has significant cost and time goals, thus preventing the slow evolution of the ground system as occurred for two other space-based telescopes STScI supports, the Hubble Space Telescope (Hubble) and the James Webb Space Telescope (Webb).   

In order to accommodate NASA’s constraints and still allow for both significant innovation and rapid delivery of working products, STScI has adopted a hybrid methodology, with a more sequential process for overall/high level project management activities, while subsystems are able to adopt an agile mindset and follow the Scrum framework to develop necessary components.  This paper is an exploration of how STScI implements a hybrid methodology while allowing freedom to development systems to follow a Scrum framework. The paper then focuses in on how two necessary components of traditional project management, risk management, and Earned Value Management are implemented, and how subsystems provide the data that upper management needs to satisfy NASA’s reporting requirements without burdening the development teams.  


Roman Mission

The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, formerly known as the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), was the top large space priority in the Astro2010 Decadal Survey.1 Roman is a NASA flagship science mission scheduled to be ready to launch in 2026.  Roman is considered a Class A mission according to the “Risk Classifications for NASA Payloads”2.  NASA uses a variety of criteria to identify a Class A mission including priority (including national significance), primary mission lifetime, complexity and challenges, and lifecycle cost.  Other examples of Class A science missions are the Hubble Space Telescope, Cassini, and the James Webb Space Telescope. 

Roman Science

NASA is implementing the telescope on a donated 2.4 meter mirror, and will produce large-scale maps of the sky with Hubble-like resolution and sensitivity, but with 100 times the field of view.  Roman is designed to be a complement to Webb. Roman has three key science themes: measuring dark energy, investigating exoplanets, and great observatory astrophysics and planetary science.  Central to Roman’s science mission is the availability of data. All Roman data will be generally available through the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST) as soon as it has been processed and archived.  There will be no proprietary or embargo period for primary investigators.

Roman Management

The Roman mission is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.  NASA has partnered with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), STScI, the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) at Caltech, as well as industrial and international partners. NASA is also working with science teams from research institutions across the United States.  NASA will develop and operate the Mission Operations Center (MOC) for Roman, while STScI is responsible for developing and operating the SOC. The Science Support Center (SSC) at IPAC is responsible for proposal selection and grants management. Responsibility for observing program definition and science data processing is split between the SOC and SSC and the SOC is responsible for housing and distributing the data.


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Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 9th Annual University of Maryland PM Symposium in May 2022.  It is republished here with the permission of the author and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Kolatch, E. (2022). The Intersection of Risk Mitigation and Innovation: The planning and development of the data management system for Nancy Grace Roman in a hybrid project management environment; presented at the 14th University of Texas at Dallas Project Management Symposium in Richardson, TX, USA in May 2022; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue IX, September. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/pmwj121-Sep2022-Kolach-nancy-grace-roman-intersection-of-risk-management-and-innovation.pdf

About the Author

Erica Kolatch

Maryland, USA


Erica Kolatch, PMP, PMI-ACP is a seasoned project manager with over 20 years of experience. She has an undergraduate degree in Art History from Yale University, a Masters degree in Library Science from Rutgers University, and a Masters degree in Computer Science from the University of Maryland, College Park. Since graduating from Maryland she has worked in IT in the DC area, consulting for various government agencies including the Department of Energy and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). She currently works for Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore as the Project Engineer developing the Data Management System for the Nancy Grace Roman Telescope. In project management her interests include risk management, requirements management, and bringing the agile mindset to federal projects. Outside of work her hobbies are focused on fiber or fabric, including knitting, quilting, and cross-stitch.