| This summer, the Knowledge
Sharing Initiative will be celebrating its fifth birthday
For almost twenty years, the main thrust of
my research has been to gain an understanding of the elements
that make for successful project management. Since I wanted
to develop a "theory of practice," most of my research
was based on first-hand data. I started by identifying
the most competent project managers, interviewing them,
observing them in action, and listening carefully to their
This has indeed been a long and arduous voyage, since
it was not always smooth sailing. Several times I reached
the painful conclusion that in order to make any progress,
I would first have to unlearn long-held concepts. In the
end came the satisfaction, as I was able to formulate
a set of principles that could deal head-on with the current
dynamic environment of project management.
Readers of ASK will recall that I shared three
of these unlearning experiences in my columns in ASK
12, 13 and 16. I also discussed several milestones in
my research, as well as some of my findings in ASK
1, 4, 7 and 18. (See to Dr. Laufer's previous articles.)
In this column, I present a brief summary of my findings
which have been reduced to five major principles.* ASK
is one of the primary products of the Knowledge Sharing
Initiative (KSI) of the NASA Academy of Program and Project
Leadership (APPL). KSI broke ground following the first
of Master Project Managers that was held in July
1999 in Leesburg, VA. The keynote speaker in that Forum
was the NASA Administrator, Mr. Daniel Goldin.
Therefore, this summer KSI will be celebrating its fifth
birthday. I join in this celebration by presenting my
current understanding of the five principles of project
management in a dynamic environment, linked to 30 stories
which were published in previous issues of ASK.
Each principle is supported by three sub-principles and
each of these, in turn, is linked to two stories from
ASK, in which the sub-principle is demonstrated.
By reviewing the principles and the stories together,
I believe the reader will gain a deeper appreciation of
the principles, as well as their application to project
management in a dynamic environment.
The following two-colored figures should help the reader
gain a better understanding of the principles. The first,
"Results-Focused Leadership -- Essence of the Principles,"
that graphically and most succinctly describes each of
the principles, should help the reader see them as a single
entity. The second, "Results-Focused Leadership -- The
Human Metaphor," shows how we, as human beings, resort
to many different yet complementary resources in our lives.
It should help the reader to better understand the unique
nature of each of the five principles, as well as their
The colors were selected to reflect some of the unique
characteristics of the principles.
Green (vegetation and growth) for planning:
suggests the growing, learning-based and evolving nature
of project planning and control in a dynamic environment.
Yellow (sunshine and optimism) for attitude:
suggests the spirited nature of the required "will to
Brown (earth) for results-oriented implementation:
suggests the down-to-earth, practical, results-based focus.
Red (heart) for people and organization:
suggests the softer aspects of people and teams, in particular,
feelings, emotions, and warm and trusting relationships.
Gray (drab, fog) for communication: suggests
the endless, ongoing, non-heroic and tedious efforts required
for project communication. (It also represents the nebulous
ambiguity resulting from continuous irrelevant and unclear
information -- a problem that frequent, intensive, and
rich communication may help resolve.)
The Five Principles of Managing Projects
in a Dynamic Environment
1: Results-Focused Leadership:
Essence of the Principles
2: Results-Focused Leadership:
The Human Metaphor
Consider these five principles as a single entity composed
of five complementary and interconnected sets of activities,
each balancing the other.
PLANNING & CONTROL
- Implementation of any one principle and its impact
on project success depends on the implementation of
all the others. To compensate for inability to fully
adhere to a principle, be prepared to modify the implementation
of the others as well as adjust project expectations.
- Embrace and apply these principles as general guidelines
that must be tailored to each unique context of the
project (e.g., stability of objectives, speed, task's
complexity, organizational culture, top management
support, team members' experience and skills).**
- Plan and Control to Accommodate Change
- Adopt a learning-based planning mind-set: start
by defining project objectives that are dictated
by customer's needs, however, don't finalize them
before you quickly explore the means and the solutions.
from the Great Masters, ASK 3
One Thing You Need to Know, ASK 6
- Start planning early and employ an evolving planning
and control process: continuously and throughout
project life collect feedback on changes in the
environment and in planning assumptions, and on
Your Ego at the Door, Please, ASK 4
Reviews, ASK 12
- Use an appropriate amount of redundancy to contain
the impact of uncertainty and enhance the stability
of the plan: add reserves; loosen the connections
between uncertain tasks; prepare contingency plans
for extremely uncertain and crucial tasks.
Man is Hard to Find, ASK 15
to Uncertainty, ASK 17
- Create a Results-Oriented Focus
- Create and maintain a focus; decide what NOT to
How to Say
No, ASK 1
Is Enough, ASK 14
- Right from the beginning and throughout, focus
on results -- both long-term and short-term. In
particular, prepare tangible intermediate products
(e.g., prototypes) that provide you rich and quick
feedback and that the customer can easily understand
in on Mars, ASK 13
of Concept, ASK 13
- Develop a pragmatic mode of operation: invest
in planning yet be ready to respond swiftly to frequent,
unanticipated events; identify areas where the search
for optimal solutions is worthwhile, but for the
rest of the project, be ready to embrace "good enough"
solutions; for repetitive activities or critical
areas (i.e., safety), employ formal/standard work
processes, otherwise, employ those that are informal
or ad hoc.
Succeed, ASK 9
Hocus Pocus, ASK 10
PEOPLE & ORGANIZATION
- Develop a Will to Win
- Develop a sense of a mission and "own" the project.
(When needed, engage in politics and work hard to
sell your project).
Thyself -- But Don't Forget to Learn About the Customer
Too, ASK 5
for the Project, ASK 12
- When necessary, challenge the status quo and be
willing to take calculated risks.
to the Voice Inside, ASK 2
GOES Around, Comes Around, ASK 16
- Persevere; keep trying until you get it right.
Yet, know when it is time to change course or retreat.
for the Imagination, ASK 16
The Don Quixote
Complex, ASK 5
- Collaborate through Interdependence and
- Take recruiting very seriously and spend as much
energy as possible on getting the right people.
Idyllic Workplace, ASK 7
- Develop trust-based teamwork and make sure that
team members feel dependent upon each other and
share the conviction that they are mutually responsible
for project results.
Is the Fraternal Twin of Creativity,
Considerations, ASK 12
- Throughout project life, assess team functioning,
ensure its alignment on project objectives, and
renew its energy.
the Deal, ASK 7
Journey Back, ASK 16
- Pull and Push Information Intensively
- Frequently and vigorously pull and push (ask for
and provide) information within and across functions
and teams, including all project stakeholders.
Has He Done for Me Lately?, ASK 9
- Employ multiple communication mediums; in particular,
extensive frequent face-to-face communication and
modern information technology.
Join-Up Meeting, ASK 7
You Mean, ASK 16
- Adopt a moving about mode of communication. (Moving
about helps you affect project performance by better
understanding what is going on and by influencing
people's behavior in a timely, natural, and subtle
Gentle Touch, ASK 9
a Fine Line, ASK 17
*My 1996 book, Simultaneous
Management, fully addresses principles 1, 4 and 5,
and only partially principles 2 and 3. The book I co-authored
with Ed Hoffman in 2000, Project Management Success
Stories, goes further by addressing fully the third
principle, but still addressed the second principle only
partially. A later reexamination of the data presented
in both books showed that ALL five principles are fully
substantiated by the data. Reexamining the findings was
triggered primarily by my work with NASA's project managers
in 1999-2000 (in the early stages of the KSI). A more
recent research composed of four case studies (two from
NASA and two from the USAF), also support all five principles.
These four case studies will be published soon in a book
co-authored by A. Laufer, T. Post and E. Hoffman.
**Project context affects the manner in which
a principle is implemented as well as the extent to which
a principle must or can be implemented. For example, when
organizational culture does not foster trust-based teamwork,
you must rely more on formal work processes rather than
informal ones. Or, when project environment is stable
and task novelty low, there is less need to adopt an evolving,
learning-based, planning process, and it is more appropriate
to employ the traditional planning process that freezes
project objectives and scope early on.