Uncle Sam's best project managers tell their stories

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Have you heard that the key to project management success is senior leadership buy-in? How about establishing milestones and metrics? Hey, did you know that to succeed, you need to communicate, communicate, communicate?

If you're up to your eyeballs in conventional wisdom from project management gurus, you may appreciate a new book that illustrates project management lessons through real-life examples rather than through simplified aphorisms.

Project Management Success Stories: Lessons of Project Leaders (Wiley and Sons), compiles first-hand accounts of project management stories by 36 of the best project leaders in the federal government. "While there are a variety of valid and complementary ways to develop project management knowledge, the study of success stories told by practitioners is unique in its capabilities to generate and disseminate knowledge," explain authors Alexander Laufer and Edward J. Hoffman.

Air Force Col. Jeanne Sutton explains how she took control of a project after the previous manager had been fired. Sutton arrived at a meeting with her new boss and, to her surprise, three senior executives from the company that helped oust her predecessor. After hearing their complaints, "I informed the executives that I would not tolerate them running to my boss first and taking up his valuable time with things I had been hired to take care of," Sutton recalled. "They never dared challenge my authority again."

Sherry Buschmann, a project manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, recounts the tale of how a meeting of her project group degenerated into finger-pointing and bickering. Buschmann couldn't take it any more, decried the group's childish behavior, and left the room. The next day, she found that the group had created and hung on the wall a big laminated sign that read, "Sherry's Day Care." "The group had seen and addressed its own problem," Buschmann writes. "Our collective goal was back in the center of everyone's target."

Authors Laufer and Hoffman required the project managers who submitted articles to be honest about problems they faced. "There is a great reluctance to recognize how fundamentally flawed many organizations and management systems are," the authors write. The authors picked project managers who demonstrated success in overcoming the flaws of federal operations.

The authors themselves formed an unusual team. Laufer is a professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Israel and recently served as a visiting professor in civil engineering at the University of Maryland. Hoffman is director of the NASA Academy of Program and Project Leadership.

The book is scheduled for publication in April in hardcover at $44.95 through Wiley and Sons (ISBN: 0-471-36007-4).

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