A Culture of Transformation

How the Next Generation Polar Team Brings Agility, Speed and Innovation to Their Mission – and Their Interns

By Caroline Briselli

Since its formation in 2018, the Next Generation Polar (NGP) program has fostered a team culture of transparency and constant learning — the perfect environment to support the many digital transformation tools and practices that they leverage to develop two national security satellites.

This summer, the team saw that this culture not only brings agility, speed and innovation to their customer and mission, but to their interns, enabling them to experience what it means to define possible in just a few weeks.

While intern Gabe was new to Agile development, it felt familiar — in fact, the time-boxed sprint deadlines, constant iteration and immediate feedback reminded him of his college classes.

“Without Agile, I’d have waited halfway through my internship to get feedback and, by the end, I may not even have fully completed a project,” said Gabe. “These programs take years and years so, when you can see incremental changes and what you’re building every two weeks, it’s motivating.”

Agile’s key tenet of people over process increases employee engagement, said Gabe’s manager, Steve, and its focus on pushing responsibility to the lowest level empowers interns and early career employees.

“Agile sprints are a way for managers to get feedback quickly on what each team member is doing,” said Steve. “Each sprint, we saw what Gabe was capable of and threw him bigger and more impactful assignments.”

Over the course of five two-week sprints, Gabe has had the opportunity to work across the program, testing flight and ground software against operational scenarios built by NGP’s Model-Based System Engineering (MBSE) team — which had two interns of its own this summer.

MBSE — a systems engineering approach which leverages integrated digital models as the single source of truth across the program life cycle — is a new concept for many joining NGP and the team was in need of a style guide to teach new users about working with the model.

After going through an MBSE 101 course hosted by the team, interns Annagrace and Ricardo were up for the task.

“We were the perfect people for the job,” said Annagrace. “We’re new users who just learned the system and now we’re helping out other new users.”

“The scars of the learning curve were still very fresh in our minds,” added Ricardo. “We can relate to new users’ questions and common hang-ups because we were in their shoes so recently.”

Fresh eyes are key during the adoption of any new tool or practice, helping to catch training gaps and identify opportunities. Interns prove to be perfect candidates to provide that outside-in perspective, sharing insights — and, in Annagrace and Ricardo’s case, developing resources — that drive the team’s continued digital transformation.

Michael, modeling and simulation performance analysis lead on NGP, said he really appreciated the fresh perspective that intern Saher brought when she tackled the critical task of a preliminary orbital safety analysis.

“There’s a lot of orbital debris in space and you want to make sure your space vehicle isn’t hit by it or, if it is, that your vehicle isn’t damaged,” explained Saher, who used MATLAB to summarize the results of her analysis. “Our team helps the space vehicle team understand which orbit is the worst in terms of probability of collision with orbital debris and ensures that, even in the worst-case scenario, we can meet our customer’s requirements.”

While Saher brought a fresh perspective to this complex task, she’d already had some experience using MATLAB in a different capacity at school.

“It’s amazing to me how quickly all of the NGP interns have been able to do productive work,” added Michael.

Equally amazing is that some students have been doing this work since high school.

Intern Jalene has been working at Northrop Grumman every summer since her junior year of high school. During that high school internship, she was introduced to cybersecurity by Carlos, who went on to coach the CyberPatriot team that Jalene formed — the first CyberPatriot team at her high school.    

Today, Jalene and Carlos both work on NGP. Carlos adds “modern, meaningful cybersecurity to harden the heart and soul of the satellite,” while Jalene has been working under Jenny to develop a requirements allocation framework showing how the requirements flow down to the system’s various components.

“We are getting a reputation for being fast and responsive when requirements changes come our way, providing an educated assessment of what the impact could be,” said Jenny. “Jalene is helping to shore up that framework so our team can execute very quickly.”

For Jalene, developing foundational systems engineering products is a new experience, but a welcome one.

“It’s really refreshing to work alongside people who are also learning and growing with the program as we go,” said Jalene, who has previously interned only on long-standing, established programs. “It’s amazing to see the early phases and watch the program develop with me.”

For Jeff, NGP’s chief engineer, the team’s culture, which brings together industry expertise and experience with new digital tools and mindsets, has been very unique — and successful.

“We’ve been really deliberate about applying hard lessons from recent programs, like GBSD and B-21, to find the pragmatic balance where digital tools will add real engineering value and not just turn into shiny objects,” said Jeff. “We’re building on successes from around Northrop Grumman, at a time when the digital native generation is coming to work in space.”

As the summer comes to a close and many interns return to class, this distinctive culture lives on at NGP, continuing to support both digital transformation and the people paving the way for it.

Northrop Grumman interns are Defining Possible every day. Click to search our internship openings and apply today.

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