AMSAT Strategic Planning Update

Introduction and Overview
Barry Baines, WD4ASW

In previous issues of The AMSAT Journal, we’ve highlighted the decision by the AMSAT Board of Directors to initiate a strategic planning process in 2017. As the board is responsible for the strategic direction of AMSAT (while the President and Senior Leadership Team handle day to-day ‘tactical’ affairs), there is a need for the board to step back and take a serious and reflective look at the future using a strategic planning process that encompasses a variety of areas.

Tony Silbert of Spartina Consulting at the AMSAT Strategic Planning Retreat in Orlando, FL

Adding to the need for such a process is that the Fox-1 program will soon complete the last of the series (as currently planned) in late 2017 or early 2018. AMSAT Engineering is working towards creating the “five and dime” ground terminal that has potential application in a variety of uses (including Phase-4B, CubeQuest Challenge with Ragnarok Industries, and a HEO 6U CubeSat concept). That makes the coming year an appropriate time for the board to establish a multi-year plan that builds on our accomplishments and encourages the organization to “push the envelope,” subject to the resources and capabilities that currently exist within AMSAT, while recognizing the perceived impact of externalities that influence the organization.

In 2004, the board adopted the last thorough strategic plan, with an update in 2009, when the board decided to accept the recommendations of the Engineering Task Force (led by VP-Engineering Tony Monteiro, AA2TX (SK)) to establish the Fox-1 program. Given that the board last considered a strategic plan seven years ago, now is the time to focus on it again.

Along with the recognition that the board needed to conduct a strategic review, we realized that most current members of the board were not involved in the prior planning processes in 2004 and 2009. Of the seven current voting board members, only two (Tom Clark, K3IO, and Barry Baines, WD4ASW) were members during the prior planning process in 2004. Thus, the board reviewed what constitutes strategic planning and why we needed to dedicate time and effort to initiate and sustain such an effort.

After board discussion in Galveston last November, we considered how best to manage the strategic planning process. A key consideration was to find an outside facilitator to help guide the conversation and establish the process for the board to utilize as a means of reaching consensus on what is important for the future of AMSAT. We selected Tony Silbert, MSOD of Spartina Consulting, to serve as our facilitator. See Two aspects of Tony’s approach were important to us: (1) building on our strengths, and our 47 years of distinguished history; and (2) creating “ownership” for making the strategic plan successful. In other words, those that are fully engaged in the creation of a strategic plan are more likely to make the commitment for implementation. We recognized the importance of finding someone who could encourage full participation by those in attendance and create the environment that would encourage frank and honest conversation about the exchange of ideas by all participants. The end result is “buy-in” by participants.

We also considered that we were initiating a process that would take time and effort throughout the year, not just in a “kickoff ” weekend. An effective consultant is critical to help begin the process and instill in the participants a sense of enthusiasm and commitment to follow through on the steps identified at the outset. After all, real sweat equity is required to complete the agreed upon tasks, including establishing teams and recruiting team members to focus on key initiatives that will create measurable results.

Those familiar with strategic planning development will remember “SWOT” — Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats — as the mechanism for evaluating internal and external considerations. Typically, most time is spent evaluating the negatives as defined by “weaknesses” and “threats.” In essence, this approach looks at past problems and barriers which can stymie creative thinking and innovation.

Tony’s approach was a little different. Called “SOAR” — Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results, the focus is on the desired future, building upon the organization’s recognized capabilities. Focusing on the positive enhances creativity and possibility thinking, so more sustainable ideas are created and shared within the strategic planning process. This approach also establishes mechanisms for moving forward and the metrics for measuring the results to evaluate overall success, defined as follows:

Strengths: What are our greatest assets?

Opportunities: What can we improve, even innovate?

Aspirations: What is our preferred future?

Results: How do we know it; how do we see it? (measurable results)

The SOAR Approach

AMSAT was fortunate to have an anonymous benefactor’s donation to AMSAT cover Tony’s consulting fee. So, with our decision made to engage Spartina Consulting, a planning team was assembled in early February consisting of Keith Baker, KB1SF, Drew Glasbrenner, KO4MA, Paul Stoetzer, N8HM, and Clayton Coleman, W5PFG. Their goal was to work with Tony on developing the agenda for the two-day session and to ensure that key outcomes and topics were identified and shared with Tony in advance of the meeting. They also worked with Tony on developing the materials to be used by the participants during the two-day session in Orlando, Florida.

We started our first session on Saturday morning, March 4, 2017. The participants were:

  • Barry Baines, WD4ASW, President and Board Member
  • Keith Baker, KB1SF, Treasurer and former President
  • Jerry Buxton, N0JY, VP Engineering and Board Member
  • Tom Clark, K3IO, Board Member and former President
  • Clayton Coleman, W5PFG, Second Board Alternate
  • Drew Glasbrenner, KO4MA, VP Operations and Board Member
  • Mark Hammond, N8MH, Board Member and former VP Educational Relations
  • Joe Kornowski, KB6IGK, AMSAT Journal Editor
  • Bob McGwier, N4HY, Board Member and former VP Engineering
  • Bruce Paige, KK5DO, Board Member
  • Martha Saragovitz, Office Manager
  • Gould Smith, WA4SXM, Former Board Member and former VP User Services
  • Joe Spier, K6WAO, VP Educational Relations
  • Paul Stoetzer, N8HM, Corporate Secretary and First Board Alternate
  • Dave Taylor, W8AAS, ARISS International Delegate who filled in for Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, VP Human Space Flight

We also invited Dave Jordan, AA4KN, to attend the sessions as our “scribe,” responsible for capturing all of the thoughts/outcomes that were discussed, and ensuring that any ideas put into the “parking lot” were not lost. A significant amount of detail needed to be documented, and Dave spent two weeks after the meeting putting together a document for the participants to use as a reference of what transpired in Orlando. Our thanks to Dave for his diligence in documenting a very intense and fast-paced weekend of activity.

The AMSAT Strategy Kickoff Retreat Agenda outlined seven Desired Outcomes:

  1. Conduct a SOAR Analysis (topics: member-driven/member engagement, communication, ownership and urgency in execution)
  2. Develop a shared vision (consensus on direction)
  3. Reach consensus on key goals/ priorities
  4. Clarify Value Proposition (“What’s in it for Me”/WIFM or “Case for Support”) from member, donor/sponsor and partner perspective
  5. Develop a strategy roadmap (short, medium, and longer term actions, with milestones, responsible parties)
  6. Create Board/leadership ownership (urgency for execution, motivated, excited), and
  7. Agree on next steps (engage members, volunteers, partners/ sponsors, etc.)

The morning began with an exercise in which attendees paired up to conduct a reciprocal SOAR (Strengths/Opportunities/ Aspirations/ Results) interview. Each participant asked the other a series of questions developed by Tony and the Planning Team to encourage each team member to: become engaged in the overall process; share what has encouraged them to be part of AMSAT; and discuss how they view AMSAT’s signature strengths and opportunities. This process became a personal experience, where each person described what “first drew you to AMSAT.” Additionally, each participant was asked, for example, “Think about a highpoint experience, a time when you felt a sense of pride and personal accomplishment and when you felt most effective and engaged. Please share your story. What happened? Who was involved? And what keeps you committed to the future of AMSAT?”

From this personal perspective, we then built upon having each interviewee identify AMSAT’s 3-5 “signature strengths” based upon the interviewee’s experiences with AMSAT. We then asked each interviewee what innovations, improvements, and changes AMSAT could implement to grow and be sustainable into the future.

Each response provided an avenue for each participant to tie his or her personal perspective into a wider context. Each was asked questions about strengths and opportunities about “Member Engagement and Communication,” as well as “Ownership and Execution.” Participants then were directed to consider a vision for AMSAT’s future: “Three years from now what do you see happening now that is new, different and better (Aspirations) and What Results are we achieving and what impact are we having on our membership, volunteers, partners, and public?”

In the two-person exercise, each person who initially was the interviewee next became the interviewer of their partner, asking the same questions. The result was not only sharing of personal stories, but an opportunity to aggregate what was said by each into an overall summary for the areas of discussion. With 15 participants, plenty of comments resulted from each discussion area to recognize and incorporate into an overall sense for the team through a process of “theming.” Two teams were subsequently created to review the responses given by members of that team through the interview process to identify key themes for Strengths and Opportunities identified in the interview process.

A large group discussion followed that looked at “Trends and Changes,” focusing on those areas that will most positively impact AMSAT in the future. Next, three groups participated in a “Vision Activity” that identified key themes around Aspirations and Results with the intent of identifying a creative vision of the future. Each small group then shared its “creative vision” with the rest of the participants to convey a sense of possibilities for AMSAT in the future, such as in areas of membership engagement or services offered. Our focus was not necessarily on specific satellite projects, but rather on identifying organizational matters that impact membership and others who are “touched” by AMSAT.

Following lunch, participants focused on developing a consensus of goals/priorities based upon the visions shared earlier: “What’s important to focus on?” Once those focus areas were identified, the participants were split into small teams with each team tasked with handling one of the identified focus areas. This included defining the goal area (success measures) and identifying key initiatives/activities for that goal area over the next 12 months, as well as the next 18-24 months, as appropriate.

As a result, four key areas of focus were identified:

  1. Innovation in satellite products and services
  2. Membership Engagement and Communication
  3. Operational and Financial Excellence (which includes IT and web development as well as succession planning), and
  4. Partnerships (Educational tied to goal 2, Technical tied to goal 1, and Financial tied to goal 3 revenue streams).

Each category has a team leader. Initial reports from the areas of focus are included below. Sunday’s activities started with a reflection on Day 1 and then a Day 2 Agenda Review. We focused the remainder of the morning on:

  1. AMSAT’s Value Proposition. This included an analysis of who our “customers” are (e.g., AMSAT members and Space and Radio Enthusiasts), the ”pains” they encounter (such as dealing with the learning curve) and the “gains” achieved (successful outcomes such as telemetry collection, two way contacts, involvement in satellite design and construction, etc.). We then discussed how AMSAT might lessen the pains and what positive gains would result.
  2. Developing strategy roadmaps. Each team focused on the four key areas, identified important milestones, timing, and responsible parties. In essence, each team scoped out what needed to be done in 2017 and 2018 to reach their goals, with results subsequently presented to the larger group. Having each team outline its expectations to the broader group provided an opportunity to identify potential overlap, as well as missing items and/or dependencies between goals. After lunch, we finished the process, identifying resources needed for success.

During the weekend, the team came up with both a Mission Statement and a Vision Statement:

Mission: To facilitate the design, assembly and launch of amateur satellites for use by licensed amateur radio operators and to provide an educational platform through the use of such devices for enhancing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiatives for education.

Vision: To continue innovation within the amateur radio hobby through means such as furthering our knowledge base by retaining and increasing membership and by seeking more liaison opportunities with higher education institutions. In addition, finding new channels for revenue through partnering with organizations sharing related interests.

A key concern within strategic planning is the realization that a weekend spent defining opportunities and priorities is but the first step in accomplishing strategic goals. The real work takes place after the initial kickoff, and a key determinant of success is not only the focus of strategic team leaders, but their success in building an implementation team with personnel focused on accomplishing their goals and spreading the workload. This work must be done in addition to the primary duties of our Senior Leadership Team, as well as whatever professional, family and other responsibilities our volunteers may have. In addition, making every effort to meet milestones is critical if we are to make a difference in 2017 and 2018.

Organizational and Financial Excellence Team Report
Keith Baker, KB1SF/VA3KSF
Past President and Treasurer 

The goal of this part of our new AMSAT strategy is to look for ways to improve the flow of work within the organization and develop an information technology (IT) structure that supports that workflow while also improving AMSAT’s presence on the Internet for both prospective and current members. At present, our team exploring these ideas consists of myself, Keith Baker, KB1SF, our Vice President of Engineering Jerry Buxton, N0JY, and our Vice President of Educational Relations Joe Spier, K6WAO.

As AMSAT’s current Treasurer, it’s my job to advise the board of directors about the financial health of the organization and to recommend ways to keep the organization solvent both in the near term as well as “down the road.”

I’m pleased to report that much of the work to improve AMSAT’s Internet presence is already well underway with the hiring of an outside contractor who is now in the process of analyzing AMSAT’S current Internet offerings with an eye on how those products might be improved. There are also several initiatives underway to break the overall day-to-day management work of the organization into bite-sized pieces so as to possibly distribute some of the work that is currently being done at AMSAT Headquarters among AMSAT’s volunteer base.

Along with that goal is an effort to look for ways to raise additional capital revenue for both organizational operations and future ground station development, as well as for satellite construction and launch.

Indeed, from the “raising capital” standpoint, for the last several years AMSAT has been operating in a financial environment whereby member dues alone are not sufficient to cover the overhead costs of running the organization. As a result, AMSAT’s financial managers have had to increasingly rely on capital gains from our investments as well as from other donations just to “keep the doors open and the lights on.” Clearly, such an approach to organizational solvency is fraught with risk and puts the organization’s continued financial existence in jeopardy.

AMSAT needs to seriously explore other sources of revenue from outside of AMSAT (and perhaps even from outside Amateur Radio) so as to guarantee that AMSAT will have the financial resources in place to be able to fulfill its mission in the years ahead. At present, that part of our strategic planning effort is in a very early “What Ways Might We?” analysis stage of looking for alternate ways to raise additional capital. Some of the (not yet firm) ideas that are currently being explored include offering our experimenter’s now proven engineering and other expertise in a consulting role to other organizations for a fee.

Another approach might involve offering plans and drawings, or possibly even assembling satellite “kits” of our Fox series of CubeSats, for purchase by organizations seeking to build a communication-based satellite. Such organizations may lack the necessary engineering expertise (such as thermal and electronic design) in-house to build their own satellites from the ground up.

And, yet another approach might entail casting a much wider net to see how AMSAT could benefit from crowd funding or other such philanthropic sources based on the work that we do and what we produce, particularly as it relates to K-12 and higher education.

In the near term, given that none of us current team members have the necessary skills or experience in capital fund raising, we are now looking to our volunteer membership to secure those skills. Specifically, we need the help of a person or persons who have experience in marketing and raising capital funds in a “non-profit” environment to join us in our effort.

However, if nobody with the necessary experience and/or skills “steps up to the plate” to assist us, we will be forced to hire outside assistance at considerable additional expense. In any case, we are aiming for our initial fund raising efforts to begin in midsummer and to be well underway by year’s end.

If anyone with the necessary skills and experience in this area wishes to volunteer their help, please drop me an e-mail note at [email protected]. Or you can call me at my U.S. cellular number at 810-300-3707.

Membership Engagement and Communication
Paul Stoetzer, N8HM
Corporate Secretary and First Board Alternate
Clayton Coleman, W5PFG
Second Board Alternate

A critical area identified during the strategic planning process was the necessity of improving communication of AMSAT activities with the membership and amateur radio community at large. Several initiatives are underway or planned to improve these areas. Immediately after the strategic planning meeting, the AMSAT President’s Apogee View column from the January/ February AMSAT Journal was posted on the website. This column, featured at the beginning of each issue of The AMSAT Journal, provides the most comprehensive summary of AMSAT activities, and publishing it on the AMSAT website widens the distribution.

Second, the AMSAT website, online store, and membership database are currently undergoing a modernization project led by AMSAT IT Team Leader Joe Fitzgerald, KM1P, and an outside vendor. When completed, this will give AMSAT a modern web presence as well as a self-service system for updating membership information. This system will eventually allow an individual to join AMSAT, instantly receive a membership ID number, and gain access to membersonly content. Additionally, members will be able to update their addresses and other information directly. In the future, this system will also allow for digital distribution of The AMSAT Journal.

Future initiatives include developing a strategy for closer coordination of social media and news distribution to ensure the widest possible audience for AMSAT news. Development of a defined process for volunteer onboarding was also identified as a need.

Innovation in Satellite Products and Services, Partnerships
Jerry Buxton, N0JY
VP Engineering

Our vision is to continue to push for more and higher LEO capability at the same time preparing for any P3, P4, and P5 opportunities that come from ASCENT development. We would also be ready to support any P3, P4, P5 opportunities from external sources (i.e., Virginia Tech).

In terms of partnerships, we plan to continue to support our key educational experiment partners in all of our satellite orbit opportunities and cultivate other educational experiment partnerships which provide mutually beneficial opportunities to the partner and AMSAT. In addition, we will seek to provide amateur radio systems for partners to fly on their own satellites as primary or backup communications, and support education in schools of all types by providing information, hardware, and support for CubeSat amateur radio systems.