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Lessons Learned for Project Managers – Part IX (#9 in the series 128 Lessons Learned for Project Managers)
By Jerry Madden

Although some of the points below are specific to NASA, many Project Managers out there will be able to easily relate…

  1. There are rare times when only one man can do the job. These are in technical areas that are more art and skill than normal. Cherish these people and employ their services when necessary as soon as possible. Getting the work done by someone else takes two to three times longer, and the product is normally below standard.
  2. Software now has taken on all the parameters of hardware, i.e., requirement creep, high percent-age of flight mission cost, need for quality control, need for validation procedures, etc. It has the added feature that it is hard as hell to determine it is not flawed. Get the basic system working and then add the bells and whistles. Never throw away a version that works even if you have all the confidence in the world the newer version works. It is necessary to have contingency plans for software.
  3. History is prologue. There has not been a project yet that has not had a parts problem despite all the qualification and testing done on parts. Time and being prepared to react are the only safeguards.
  4. Award fee is a good tool that puts discipline both on the contractor and the government. The score given represents the status of the project as well as the management skills of both parties. The Performance Measurement System should be used to verify the scores. Consistent poor scores require senior management intervention to determine the reason. Consistent good scores, which are consistent with Performance Measurement System, reflect a well-run project, but if these scores are not consistent with the Performance Measurement System, senior management must take action to find out why.
  5. A project manager is not the monitor of the work but is to be the driver. In award fee situations, the government personnel should be making every effort possible to make sure the contractor gets a high score, i.e., be on schedule and produce good work. Contractors don’t fail, NASA does, and that is why one must be proactive in support. This is also why a low score damages the government project manager as much as the contractor’s manager because it means he is not doing his job.

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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