The Smart Mission: NASA's Lessons for Managing Knowledge, People, and Projects

The Smart Mission: NASA's Lessons for Managing Knowledge, People, and Projects

The Smart Mission: NASA's Lessons for Managing Knowledge, People, and Projects

The Smart Mission: NASA's Lessons for Managing Knowledge, People, and Projects


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Why human skills and expertise, not technical tools, are what make projects succeed.

The project is the basic unit of work in many industries. Software applications, antiviral vaccines, launch-ready spacecraft: all were produced by a team and managed as a project. Project management emphasizes control, processes, and tools—but, according to The Smart Mission, that is not the right way to run a project. Human skills and expertise, not technical tools, are what make projects successful. Projects run on knowledge. This paradigm-shifting book—by three project management experts, all of whom have decades of experience at NASA and elsewhere—challenges the conventional wisdom on project management, focusing on the human dimension: learning, collaboration, teaming, communication, and culture.

The authors emphasize three themes: projects are fundamentally about how teams work and learn together to get things done; the local level—not an organization’s upper levels—is where the action happens; and projects don’t operate in a vacuum but exist within organizations that are responsible to stakeholders. Drawing on examples and case studies from NASA and other organizations, the authors identify three project models—micro, macro, and global—and their different knowledge needs. Successful organizations have a knowledge-based culture. Successful project management guides the interplay of knowledge, projects, and people.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262046886
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 08/16/2022
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 1,064,697
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Edward J. Hoffman, currently CEO of Knowledge Strategies, LLC, and Senior Lecturer at Columbia University, was NASA’s first Chief Knowledge Officer and founder of the NASA Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership (APPEL). Following the Columbia shuttle failure, he led the team that designed the Strategic Management and Governance Handbook. He is the coauthor of Shared Voyage: Learning and Unlearning from Remarkable Projects.

Matthew Kohut, former major communication advisor to NASA, is coauthor of Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential, named one of Amazon’s Best Business Books of 2013.

Laurence Prusak, former strategy consultant to Hoffman at NASA, is Senior Lecturer in the Information and Knowledge Strategy graduate program at Columbia University and the coauthor of Working Knowledge, a widely cited text about how knowledge works in organizations, and other books.

Table of Contents

Introduction vii
1 Knowledge 1
2 Learning 23
3 Stories: Knowledge, Meaning, and Community 47
4 Culture 65
5 Teaming 81
6 Global Collaboration: The International Space Station 105
Don Cohen
7 The Way Forward: Mission-Critical Advice 123
Notes 131
Index 145

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“This book is about people (often a missing ingredient), knowledge, and the grand value of stories….and oh yes, projects too. The three authors gave me more concrete advice on leading people, knowledge, and projects in this book than I could have ever learned from hiring an outside consultant for a year.”
—E. LaVerne Johnson, Founder, President and CEO, International Institute for Learning, Inc.
“Every leader who leads and manages teams should read The Smart Mission. It explains the intangibles of successful knowledge organizations in a tangible way. The authors master the art of explaining how people culture, process, and relationships drive the successes and failures of projects. The book helped me to gain clarity and focus about the challenges we try to solve in our organization.”
—Susann Roth, Chief of Knowledge Management, Asian Development Bank
“This book supplements and corrects the somewhat sterile project management literature. It recognizes that successful projects are about acquiring and applying knowledge. And NASA provides the perfect example. Whatever your type of moonshot, The Smart Mission will help land it.”
—Thomas H. Davenport, Distinguished Professor, Babson College, and Visiting Professor, Oxford Saïd Business School; author of The AI Advantage, Competing on Analytics, and Working Knowledge
“Intangibles such as knowledge, learning and culture are the source of productivity and innovation in any organization. However, intangibles by nature are extremely hard to measure or manage, until The Smart Mission. It cracks the code with principles and practices gained through NASA’s long journey. It’s a must-read for managers and knowledge-workers, especially those at project-based organizations.”
—Naoki Ogiwara, Managing Director, Knowledge Associates Japan
“Every mission should be a Smart Mission. NASA has paid high costs to learn these lessons, and Ed Hoffman, Matthew Kohut, and Larry Prusak have distilled and refined them as tools for any program or project.”
—Peter Temes, President, Institute for Innovation in Large Organizations; author of The Power of Purpose, The Just War, and We the People

Bronze Axiom medal, Business Intelligence / Innovation category, 2023

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