Case | HBS Case Collection | February 2010 (Revised May 2010)

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

by Robert S. Kaplan and Anette Mikes


The case, in a non-profit project-oriented setting, introduces fundamental risk management principles and processes that are easily applicable to private sector settings. Gentry Lee, senior systems engineer and de-facto chief risk officer, is applying a new comprehensive risk management system to a $600 million high-profile Mars landing mission. The case illustrates JPL's risk culture for high-visibility and expensive missions in the post-Challenger era with tightly constrained budgets. It introduces risk analytics, such as heat maps, and the management process and governance system centered around continuous challenge and "intellectual confrontation." Students will consider JPL's strategy and constraints, measurable technical risks, non-measurable external risks, and societal pressures in making a decision about whether to launch or delay the Mars mission launch. The case calls for an appreciation of the role of the chief risk officer, and of leadership in general, in risk management.

Keywords: Budgets and Budgeting; Governance; Leadership; Management Practices and Processes; Management Systems; Risk Management; Projects; Aerospace Industry; United States;


Kaplan, Robert S., and Anette Mikes. "Jet Propulsion Laboratory." Harvard Business School Case 110-031, February 2010. (Revised May 2010.)