CEO Book Club Vol 10: “Faster, Better, Cheaper”

Welcome back to the CEO Book Club. Ajay Patel, CEO of SMA, selected “Faster, Better, Cheaper: Low-Cost Innovation in the U.S. Space Program” by Howard McCurdy for this week’s book. This book, published in 2003, describes NASA’s efforts during the 1990s to reduce the development times of new space programs from decades to years. Ajay was recently reminded of the impact that the book had on his thinking about acquisition reform after hearing that the Honorable Daniel S. Goldin received the prestigious General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award at this year’s Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was the longest-serving NASA administrator from 1992 to 2001. As the 9th NASA administrator, he transformed the organization and space acquisition with the Faster, Better, Cheaper (FBC) initiative. Mr. McCurdy’s book documents the FBC initiative―its philosophy, challenges, successes, and implications for future space programs.

Sixteen NASA programs were launched under the FBC initiative including the Mars Pathfinder which was the first of a series of missions to Mars after the Viking missions in 1976. In total, there were five missions to Mars, one to the moon, three space telescopes, two comet and asteroid rendezvous spacecraft, four Earth-orbiting satellites, and an ion propulsion test vehicle. While in the past programs of this complexity would have taken decades to complete, they were completed in years under FBC. Though only ten of the sixteen missions were successful, the FBC initiative contributed enduring positive changes to space acquisition. All sixteen of the FBC missions cost much less and were accomplished in record time when compared to traditional NASA missions. such as the Cassini mission to Saturn.

Howard McCurdy’s book is a scholarly examination of the FBC initiative led by Daniel S. Goldin as the ninth administrator of NASA. The impact of the initiative on government acquisition reform cannot be overstated. The philosophy and lessons from FBC contributed to acquisition reform initiatives in DoD such as the Air Force’s Lightning Bolts program and informed acquisition studies into the 2000s including the Defense Acquisition Performance Assessment conducted in 2006 commissioned by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordan England and directed Mr. David Patterson, an SMA Executive Advisor. Ajay Patel led this project as a global partner at Monitor. Ajay encourages you to read “Faster, Better, Cheaper: Low-Cost Innovation in the U.S. Space Program”, or re-read again if you are already familiar with the book.

Published on May 2, 2023 by

Nicole Matar