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Lessons Learned for Project Managers – Part III (#3 in the series 128 Lessons Learned for Project Managers)
By Jerry Madden

  • Not all successful managers are competent and not all failed managers are incompetent. Luck still plays a part in success or failure, but luck favors the competent, hard-working manager.
  • If you have a problem that requires the addition of people to solve, you should approach recruiting people like a cook who has under-salted, i.e., a little at a time.
  • A project manager must know what motivates the project contractors, i.e., their award system, their fiscal system, their policies, and their company culture.
  • Other than original budget information prior to the President’s submittal to Congress, there is probably no secret information on the project — so don’t treat anything like it is secret. Everyone does better if they can see the whole picture, so don’t hide any of it from anyone.
  • Know the resources of your center and if possible other centers. Other centers, if they have the resources, are normally happy to help. It is always surprising how much good help one can get by just asking.
  • Contractors tend to size up their government counterparts, and staff their part of the project accordingly. If they think yours are clunkers, they will take their poorer people to put on your project.
  • Documentation does not take the place of knowledge. There is a great difference in what is supposed to be, what is thought to have been, and what the reality is. Documents are normally a static picture in time which is outdated rapidly.
  • Remember who the customer is and what his objectives are, i.e., check with him when you go to change anything of significance.
  • In case of a failure:
    • Make a timeline of events and include everything that is known;
    • Put down known facts — check every theory against them;
    • Don’t beat the data until it confesses, i.e., know when to stop trying to force-fit a scenario;
    • Do not arrive at a conclusion too rapidly. Make sure any deviation from the norm is explained–remember the wrong conclusion is prologue to the next failure;
    • Know when to stop.
  • Remember the boss has the right to make decisions, even if you think they are wrong. Tell the boss what you think but, if he still wants it done his way, do your best to make sure the outcome is successful.

Reprinted with permission from NASA. This article first appeared in NASA’s ASK Magazine, the NASA source for Project Management and Engineering Excellence.

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