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ASK OCE — February 23, 2007 — Vol. 2, Issue 2



PM Challenge 2007 provided a unique opportunity for a roundtable discussion of project management with leaders from the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the NASA Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership (APPEL).

ASK OCE met with PMI CEO Greg Balestrero, PMI Board Member Yanping Chen, APPEL Director Dr. Ed Hoffman, and ASK Magazine Managing Editor Don Cohen for a wide-ranging survey of the project management landscape today.

ASK OCE: What are the big trends that are dominating the field of project management globally?

Greg Balestrero: I’d say that globalization has clearly changed the face of project management. It’s very difficult to think of any company or organization that doesn’t feel the pressures and the implications of globalization on the supply chain. And it’s an intellectual supply chain as well as a physical supply chain.

The global supply chain is a growing issue. The Airbus A380 is just one example of globalization and its effect on an organization. With globalization comes a challenge of having a common framework and understanding — as simple as a lexicon, as complicated as a common process — for project and program management. When you have the case of the A380 — 1,500 suppliers, 24,000 projects cutting across 30 countries that have a variety of currencies — having the knowledge and common understanding of what deadlines mean to the project as a whole, what project scheduling is, and interpretation of things like risk management and how you’re going to address risk is crucial. I think globalization is the biggest trend affecting project management today. It’s hard not to be touched by it.

When you’re talking about international space policy, clearly it’s about the trend of globalization. Managing a project with the scale and scope of the International Space Station — where you have contractors all over the world, missions specialists all over the world, control specialists all over the world — requires a very sincere and deliberate effort to concentrate on a common standard, common practice, and common approach. I think in something as highly visible as the Space Station, when the project is so costly and the accountability is so great, communication becomes a crucial issue. Project communication is one of the nine knowledge areas described in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide®), and the emphasis on skilled communication is really compounded when you go across geographic boundaries.

Don Cohen: Talking about communication, I’m thinking about the issues of how the knowledge needed to do the project successfully is, first of all, communicated among the parties of the project, and second, how things learned during the project are saved or passed on for future project uses. What’s the role of the project manager in making sure that happens, and do you know of mechanisms or approaches that really work to solve that big knowledge problem?

Greg Balestrero: As far as turning each project into a learning activity so that results can be passed on, one of the key processes for projects is project closure. Project closure includes a learning exercise: what went right, what went wrong, and how do you transfer that information or distribute it so that the next person or project team can build upon it.

With regard to successful projects, success is really determined at the outset with a clear definition of the scope of the project and the expected outcomes. That’s not easy to do. I was reading a case study of the Atlanta Aquarium, and one of the criteria was a comprehensive study of all of the animals and what their habitats had to include. That’s what the team had to create. So throughout the project, when the team had to make decisions in order to meet the deadline – a $290 million project, 44 months to do it — they’d sit down periodically and audit back against the habitat. Were they creating the habitat that would allow these animals to survive and thrive? They had their successful outcome clearly defined from the very beginning of the project.

Now compare that with putting up a manned mission to the Moon, and working across geographic boundaries and cultures, and you have a challenge there. But as long as there’s a common approach to defining that scope and those expected outcomes at the front end of the project—because project initiation is a significant portion of achieving success — it’s a challenge that can be overcome.

Yangpin Chen: In terms of program/project knowledge, there’s the question of how to internally share that knowledge, and also how to pass it on generation after generation. NASA and all the space agencies document knowledge, and they encourage internal sharing of documents. That has been done quite sufficiently the past two or three decades. But not sharing across boundaries. That concerns me. NASA has been called to take the lead in human exploration of space. That’s not a mission that one country can accomplish — that has to be an international endeavor. It has to involve many nations — however it’s difficult for all the space agencies to share knowledge outside of themselves. Greg pointed out that you need to find a common platform to be able to share the knowledge that you have.

In terms of generations, that has been a challenge in NASA and also in other agencies, in the Chinese and Japanese space agencies. Knowledge can be kept. You can document stories. But there is also a kind of a spirit, an inspiration that is very often lost in the translation across the generations. So how can you capture that part?

Ed Hoffman: To me, people like projects because they’re about people. They’re going after challenging work, they’re going after activities that have a great deal of meaning. There are ways of getting measures so you can keep score of how you’re doing. And it’s working with people, hopefully people you care about. The nature of space is international. One of the great things about NASA is that a large part of our missions are international partnerships in one way or another. And it goes beyond international space agency partnerships — it’s industry as well. Obviously 90% of the work is done by industry. A large part is academic. So you basically have an activity that pulls the whole world community together. The challenges are to find out what needs to be done and then find ways and formats for people to come together and work.

I think that where the international activities work well, you can see examples of person-to-person (relationships). I’m not a big fan of the database approach because I don’t usually see them working, and I believe people need to see each, talk together. When you go to a different country, I think it’s important to find out what the country is proud about, what are some of the things that are important, because I think it’s the relationship that ultimately leads to the success of the project or mission.

When you look at something like the International Space Station, it’s natural to look at the problems, the cost, and the great technological breakthroughs, but look at what was accomplished in terms of the international community coming together. When you have all these countries, you have that kind of challenge, but it came together. That to me is the hope for space — that it’s something that can pull the community together.

But it’s when people need to work together—that’s when the relationships start taking place. We went from the Apollo generation where the Soviet Union was the enemy, even though there were exchanges, and then literally once the Wall came down, now the Russians have a key part in the Space Station. So what took place there was sending folks over to start meeting, start talking. That builds a community.


In This Issue

Message from the Chief Engineer

NASA on the Hill: Marburger Testifies on R&D Budget

This Week in NASA History: Discoverer 1

PM Challenge Executive Leadership Roundup

What’s Ahead for Project Management: A Roundtable Discussion with PMI

22nd Annual George M. Low Awards: Presented at PM Challenge 2007

Integrating Risk and Knowledge Management in ESMD

Hugh Woodward on Surprising Keys to Project Success

What’s the Situation?

Let’s Talk Risk Management

APPEL Masters Forum: Call for Nominees and Speakers

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