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Lessons Learned for Project Managers – Part XV (#15 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…

  • Interagency agreements are hard to make even if there is no conflict in the responsibilities and the requirements do satisfy both parties. Conflict in these areas normally leads to failure no matter how hard the people involved try to make an agreement.
  • In dealing with international partners, the usual strategy is to go 1 day early, meet with your counterpart, discuss all issues to be brought up at a meeting, arrive at an agreeable response (or a decision to table the issue for later discussion), and agree not to take any firm positions on any new issues brought up at the meeting. This makes it appear to the rest of the world that you and your counterpart are of one mind and that the work is in good hands. All disputes are held behind closed doors with the minimum number of participants.
  • Gentlemen and ladies can get things done just as well as bastards. What is needed is a strong will and respect — not “strong arm” tactics. It must be admitted that the latter does work but leaves a residue that has to be cleaned up.
  • Though most of us in our youth have heard the poem that states “for want of a nail the race was lost,” few of us realize that most space failures have a similar origin. It is the commonplace items that tend to be overlooked and thus do us in. The tough and difficult tasks are normally done well. The simple and easy tasks seem to be the ones done sloppily.
  • In the “old NASA,” a job done within schedule and cost was deemed to be simple. The present NASA wants to push the start of the art, be innovative, and be a risk taker but stay on schedule and cost. One gets the feeling that either the new jobs will be simple or that the reign of saints has finally occurred.

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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