I had never thought of myself as a thief, but there I was, peering at stuff that clearly wasn’t mine and quietly slipping it into my “toolbox”
for my own personal use. It was broad daylight, and I was in plain view
of a least a dozen people. The audacity!
At leas t that’s how it felt to me initially. I have
the honor of being on the Academy of Program
and Project Leadership (APPL) Knowledge Sharing
Feedback and Assessment Team (FAA), and as such, I
am privileged to receive the feedback written by many
of you as attendees of the Project Management (PM)
Master’s Forums. It is the intent of the FAA Team
and APPL leadership to use this feedback as a tool for
continuous program improvement.
As a retired (sort of) PM in the payload contracting
industry, I’m a big supporter of NASA’s Knowledge
Sharing Initiative (KSI), especially the Master’s Forums.
I really enjoy participating in them. Unfortunately I had
to miss the 8th forum in Pasadena this past Spring,
but I did get the feedback package for the Assessment
Team work. So here I was, reviewing twelve pages of
comments, reflections, learning notes and critiques
from attendees of the 8th forum.
THE EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS
The FAA’s mission is to find the positives and negatives
in the feedback and compile them for discussion. Shortly
into the process of reading the comments, however, my
mission changed. I found myself progressing through
the feedback, agenda item by agenda item, and actually attending the forum vicariously through the feedback writers! I became engrossed in the content. I felt as
though I was blindfolded at a fast-moving sporting
event and the play-by-play was being described to me
by many others around me.
The feedback was incredibly detailed and well
written, complete with application notes, doubts
and potential pitfalls. Not surprisingly, I found
myself learning rather than reviewing! I was actually
taking away knowledge, forming opinions of my own,
and developing questions, as though I had been
sitting right there! That’s why I initially felt like a thief.
Actually I was experiencing remote learning, not only
from the original forum presenters, but also from
the feedback writers.
I myself have “stolen” lessons from various storytellers
and practitioners that have participated in APPL’s
programs over the years. I took the importance of storytelling
as a means of conveying lessons learned—and also
ways to implement this tool with a program team—from
Annette Simmons’s ASK 18 Special Feature, “Dressing
up the Naked Truth.” From Dr. Gary Klein, a keynote
speaker at the 7th Master’s Forum, I discovered the use of “pre-mortems” as risk identification tools to help a
team communicate effectively with a shared risk management
philosophy. I learned ways to spot the predictors of
successful program management behavior during the
selection interviewing process from ASK feature writer
Scott Tibbitts’s article, “Tell Me About Your Lemonade
Stand,” which appeared in ASK 18. And these are just a
few of the things I’ve taken away with me.
As for the feedback accounts, it’s clear that the
8th forum was a huge success. As I reviewed the
agenda topics, then read the presentation slides and
the feedback, I found many of the common themes
that always surface when Program/Project Managers
get together to discuss successes and failures. A
few of these common success factors were: effective
communication both inside and outside your project
team;the fact that “people” management— rather than
“technical” management—is the most important factor
for overcoming adversity; and the argument that leadership
is founded on the principles of interpersonal
relationships—including mutual respect, trust, open
communication, and the creation of an environment
that encourages new ideas and personal growth. And
even though these are repeating success factors, there
are always new stories, new thoughts, and new shared
experiences dealing with their successful application.
But my review of the forum material and feedback
also revealed some newer topics as well. This knowledge,
too, I snatched up like the proverbial starving squirrel
after the world’s last acorn; into my own PM toolbox
they went! This included thoughts and concepts such
as “the conductor does not make any noise, but
gets the best possible music out of the orchestra.”
I learned new ideas for motivating teams and individuals
and reflected on a debate about intrinsic vs.
extrinsic motivation. I also read about the increasing
importance of coaching and mentoring with notes
for effective implementation of these concepts, the
use of Test Readiness Levels (TRL) for managing
Software project risk, considerations for establishing
pro-active “coyote teams” versus re-active “tiger teams”
LIKE TAKING CANDY FROM A BABY
This exercise in remote learning has been valuable
to me. It has provided many new ideas for me and
reinforced existing project management success
concepts. It has illustrated to me, and hopefully to you, that we don’t have to be there to learn from it. The
available material alone is very useful. Coupled with the
excellent feedback from the gracious attendees, it was
almost as good as being there!
And the folks at APPL are great at keeping the
forum agendas and the presentation packages on their
website, which can be accessed according to the forum
number and date at /node/19
You may have also noticed that many of the Forum
presentations also appear in narrative format in ASK
Magazine, available online at www.appl.nasa.gov/ask.
That means that this same knowledge, without the
editorial comments found in feedback, is available on
the APPL website to everyone, whether you attended
the forum or not. Anyone can “steal” this knowledge
I wasn’t able to attend the 8th forum this past year,
but I was able to take part in the knowledge sharing.
To those of you who wrote the excellent feedback,
I thank you. I’m looking forward to seeing you in
- When you are open to it, Knowledge Sharing becomes
a tool for life, not a one-day workshop. Never underestimate
the lessons you could learn from “communities of
practice” composed of your experienced peers.
Reinventing the wheel isn’t admirable if it’s unnecessary.
Don’t be afraid to steal, imitate, revise, and reuse the
lessons and best practices of others.
For learning to occur, errors, mistakes, and occasional failures
must be accepted. How does one create the conditions that
overcome human nature: the fact the “everyone wants to learn,
but nobody wants to be wrong?”