Online Edition - January 2000
NASA Center's Six-Day Employee Relocation Proves Planning Plus Teamwork Equal Success
--Accomplishing over 2,000 office moves and physically relocating more than 1,700 employees, 18,000 pieces of furniture, 46,000 boxes, more than 6,000 computers and over 2,000 telephones and fax machines - all in less than a week - may seem an impossible task.
--But it can be done, and it was.--Just ask the team who made it happen at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
--"When you have a challenge that large looming ahead of you, it takes serious planning, focus and a lot of coordination," said James Wyckoff, who was at the center of the "beehive" of move-related activities. His Center Operations Directorate position, as chief of Marshall's Planning and Integration Division of the Facilities Services Department, is what put him there.
--Wyckoff is talking about the largest employee relocation project since he joined Marshall a quarter of a century ago. The move, involving 2,089 employees in 31 buildings, was necessary because of a major reorganization of the Marshall Center called for by Center Director Arthur G. Stephenson.
--The reorganization was designed to improve customer service and relations, as well as increase focus on the Center's roles and missions within NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
All The Right Stuff
--Cloud said the move team also used the Center's Information Technology systems to keep the flow of communication ongoing - for instance, a special page on the Intranet site was set up.
--Two months later, Marshall's Center Operations Directorate and its facilities team, led by Wyckoff, began preparing in earnest for the challenge ahead. The team was faced with daunting constraints, the most significant being the large number of employees to be relocated and the short period of time to accomplish it all in.
--State-of-the-art computer software allowed the move team to lay out plans in advance, which saved time in the long run. "Moving people from an existing building to a new unoccupied structure is one thing," said Wyckoff. "But we were faced with moving to occupied spaces. Our plan had to involve clearing the building of people, selective relocation and replacement of copiers, fax machines and furniture and moving the items into staging areas.
--Then we had to put all the pieces back - into different places." Crisis planning was also part of the extensive, detailed preparation. "We had to think of everything that could go wrong, and develop solutions prior to the move," said Wyckoff. "Because we were prepared, the small glitches that did occur weren't enough to disrupt anyone's positive attitude and keep them from getting the job done."
--"Removing all the barriers to success was very important," added Cloud. "And that included attitudes, as well as physical barriers. Each individual had to understand the project, the reason for it and management's commitment to ensuring it would happen quickly and safely."
--In addition to moving office contents, the Marshall move team had to consider phone, fax and computer lines, furniture arrangement and converting single-occupancy offices to multiple-occupancy, or vice versa. An entire computer laboratory also had to be moved.
Countdown To Liftoff
--Marshall Center management determined which building would house each organization. Directorates and office heads were tasked with making space assignments, as well as furniture and communications requirements for each employee. Then employees got involved. Each person packed his or her own files into boxes and tagged items to be moved. Generally, desks and bookcases remained, which helped keep to a minimum the relocation of heavier items.
--"To move as many items as required in six days, we had to develop a precise move schedule, and arrange for all the employees to be out of their offices," said Wyckoff. The key to that was setting up an off-site conference to provide training opportunities for employees, and timing it to coincide with the move. Arranging logistics for the employee training sessions was its own challenge, so the experts were brought in.
--Under the leadership of Tereasa Washington, director of Marshall's Customer and Employee Relations Directorate, locations were found off-site, speakers arranged and materials developed. "So movers could work uninterrupted, it was up to our team to give employees somewhere else to go and something productive to do," Washington explained.
--Her team was led by Greg Walker, who heads the Employee and Organizational Development Office with NASA. "Our conference provided a variety of training, with most sessions, such as computer software classes - applicable to everyone," said Walker.
--"We were fortunate also to offer sessions of mandatory classes, such as ISO 9000 training, so employees wouldn't have to disrupt their work to take them later." Offering training classes proved to be the most economical plan, Cloud said, when compared to what it would cost to give everyone time off, "These classes ultimately saved the federal government about $1 million," Cloud stated. "It also was an efficient use of the employees' time, since many classes were mandatory."
3, 2, 1 Liftoff!
--To further ease interference with the movers' work, security personnel limited access to buildings involved in the move. More than 250 people were involved in the move, including custodians who disposed of 269 tons of trash during the month - 87 tons more than the monthly average. Electricians were on standby in case of a power outage; so was an elevator repairman, since elevators were a critical mode of transportation in each building.
--"An ambulance was on standby, too," said Cloud. "At Marshall we believe in safety first. We were ready for accidents. But I'm proud to say this complex undertaking was essentially accident-free, with only a paper cut or two." Although the vast majority of the move was done in a six-day blitz, there were inevitably some loose ends before the relocation process could be called fully complete. Offices still needed to be "tweaked" to personalize the space. Furniture still remained to be rearranged, and some shelving and filing cabinets added.
A Safe Landing
--Despite all of that, said Wyckoff, the stress and anxiety have been kept to a minimum. Perhaps the biggest advantage in conducting a mass move during reorganization is that the new arrangement becomes real for the employees, as studies have shown. It's not just a "wiring diagram" on paper.
--"The physical move helps employees make the mental transition to a new work situation," Wyckoff pointed out. Today, Wyckoff has a sense of fulfillment. "Our team relished the challenge of figuring it all out and then doing it. When given the assignment, the team quickly went from disbelief and fright to a 'Let's do it!' attitude. To know we have the expertise to do something of this magnitude, and do it well, speaks very highly of the Marshall Center."
--And out of all this effort came some new guidelines for office space utilization, the furniture policy was re-established and an updated Center phone directory was produced. "Whether they moved or not, every employee was touched in some way by the move," said Cloud. "And cooperation, center-wide, was incredible." Marshall Center Director Stephenson has glowing praise for the effort that went into the move, and says that the results are a solid return for the investment made.
--"I believe our employees are energized about working in a more streamlined and product-focused environment which results from the reorganization," he said. "It will help us better respond to customers and optimize resources, which was - and should always be - our main objective here at Marshall."