IAF IPMC Young Professionals Workshop

By Antonio Stark, Pavithra Manghaipathy, Ruvimbo Samanga, and Paola Breda

The International Astronautical Congress (IAC) is the premier conference for professionals in the space sector. The International Astronautical Federation (IAF) is the hosting body for the IAC, whose activities involve the annual Young Professionals (YP) Workshop that is hosted in parallel to the IAC.

The goal of the YP Workshop is to recruit young researchers from around the world to investigate selected topics of interest for the IAF community. The in-person YP workshop happens one day before the IAC, usually hosted in September-October. Preparations for each YP workshop start much earlier in March-April. Applications to be part of the research teams are submitted via nominations from IAF Member Organisations. Space agencies, industry, and nonprofit organisations like SGAC submit nominations via highly selective internal processes, which are then judged by the IAF’s International Project/Programme Management Committee (IPMC).

In 2021, four professionals – Antonio Stark (South Korea), Pavithra Manghaipathy (Sweden), Ruvimbo Samanga (Zimbabwe), and Paola Breda (Germany) came together via nominations through the Korean Aerospace Research Institute, the Swedish Space Corporation, SGAC, and the Bundeswehr University of Munich, respectively. We were just four of the eight members assigned to investigate the topic of agile project management in the space sector for 2021. While we were nominated independently from four different corners of the globe, we were all SGAC members involved in SGAC’s activities. The realisation symbolised the broad reach of the SGAC community and its global representation.

Since our initial meeting in May, our eight members have met every weekend to discuss the future of project management in the space sector. While project management is a popular topic in the business world, project management in the aerospace industry, especially its novel practices, is scarcely investigated. The IAF IPMC recognised this oversight stemmed from the diversity of overlapping value chains and high industry dependency on unique national regulations. As a result, the IAF selected us to represent government, industry, military, academia, and nonprofits to investigate and develop potential solutions to target this challenge..

In the next five months, we went from the definition of project management and literature review of “agile” and “lean” practices to defining a global map of management cultures, a framework to understand business value chains, and a decision tree to identify the potential success of the new approaches. The level of research that our team could conduct in such a short timeframe against the wide range of timezones spoke to all team members’ level of commitment. Our commitment to the cause was also visible when none of us held back and continued – even increased our contributions to deliver a quality report – even when Covid-19 travel restrictions allowed only half of our team to attend the IAC 2021 in person in Dubai.

Our presentation at IAC received high interest from the audience, many of them asking if we would continue the research to dig deeper into our findings. While the five-month journey has been transformative for us all, only four of the eight members decided to continue our research for another year. It is perhaps a delightful coincidence that we happen to be the four SGAC members of the team. In a different perspective, however, working in SGAC has given us the necessary skills to work across cultures and borders. We kept each other accountable to deadlines, set standards and actionable items to achieve them, and had fun exploring new perspectives and ideas.

In the end, our team of four has now two abstracts submitted for IAC 2022. One paper expands on the framework and decision tree to make agile project management strategies more adaptable to NewSpace firms, and the other captures the outcomes of agile methods in real life through case studies. More importantly, we’ve made memories and friendships that will last throughout our professional careers.

This article hopes to encourage readers – especially SGAC members – to apply to the YP Workshop in the future. Your nomination may come from SGAC or your respective organisations. You may find other SGAC members in your team, or none at all. We can confidently say that it will be a demanding yet worthwhile experience. Ultimately, the workshop is a condensed form of a “SGAC experience”: interacting globally on current space issues for concrete outcomes that can directly benefit the community. We hope that you will find this experience as inspiring as we did.