When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

11 April 2006

One Hundred Rules for NASA Project Managers

NASA project manager Jerry Madden, the Associate Director of the Flight Projects Directorate at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, was a legend in his field. He began collecting and assembling a set of rules for project managers early in his career; after Jerry retired in 1995, others maintained and updated the list.

Two caveats:

(1) Much of this stuff is what a friend of mine calls “advanced common sense,” and most experienced managers wouldn’t find much to disagree with here.

(2) Some of it deals specifically with government-contracting situations, and may not be directly applicable to what you do (if you do something else.)

As a quick, readable reminder of What’s Really Important, though, it almost can’t be beat.

A few of Mr. Madden’s rules:

Rule #12: Don’t get too egotistical so that you can’t change your position, especially if your personnel tell you that you are wrong. You should cultivate an attitude on the project where your personnel know they can tell you of wrong decisions.

Rule #24: One must pay close attention to workaholics—if they get going in the wrong direction, they can do a lot of damage in a short time. It is possible to overload them and cause premature burnout but hard to determine if the load is too much, since much of it is self generated. It is important to make sure such people take enough time off and that the workload does not exceed 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 times what is normal.

Rule #33: If you have a problem that requires additional people to solve, you should approach putting people on like a cook who has under-salted the food.

Rule #40: A working meeting has about six people attending. Meetings larger than this are for information transfer (management science has shown that, in a group greater than twelve, some are wasting their time).

Rule #66: Don’t assume you know why senior management has done something. If you feel you need to know, ask. You get some amazing answers that will astonish you.

Rule #83: Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. It is also occasionally the best help you can give. Just listening is all that is needed on many occasions. You may be the boss, but if you constantly have to solve someone’s problems, you are working for him.

Rule #89: Whoever said beggars can’t be choosers doesn’t understand project management, although many times it is better to trust to luck than to get poor support.

One Hundred Rules for NASA Project Managers

(Note: The version of "100 Rules" at the NASA site is different, and is now up to 128!)

Also posted at Knowledge Work.

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