It's a Project Manager's World Newsletter with Dr. James Brown
      April, 2011 Full Moon Edition      

 Book Review:  The Program Manager – The Bull Leading the Charge, Richard Hardy

Richard Hardy provides significant value to any leader in his book, The Program Manager – The Bull Leading the Charge, ISBN 0-9656945-3-4.  It takes a metaphorical look at program management by using herds of cows as existing programs and the mentoring of a “young bull” who will eventually take over the herd. 

Below are 12 quotes I found were valuable take-aways. I especially enjoyed his statement about incompetent leaders in bullet 3.

1.    Without a strong program manager there is no chance of success… I am convinced after observing many programs that the highest leverage on success is the quality of the program manager: how disciplined, and what kind of leader he or she is.

2.    It is interesting to see how most managers avoid coming to grips with the tough problems and rather focus their minds on the fun or easy problems.  This point is especially true of engineers who like to design things before they figure out the real requirements and payoff parameters for what they are designing.  The point, of course is true not only for engineers but for everyone.

3.    Nothing makes the managers on a program fight with each other more than fuzzy overlapping assignments.  Aggressive manager’s want a clear assignment that leads to a definite accomplishment. Each will then form a team to accomplish the task.  The program manager has to define those assignments and insure that they include all the required tasks and are compatible.  Incompetent leaders establish organizations with fuzzy interfaces because they are not knowledgeable enough or smart enough to define an organization structure that has clean interfaces.  The organization then spends more time working on the interfaces than on the product.

4.    I always think about the status of a program in terms of the color code for each requirement, a system that our customer uses to gage the health of programs.  Red for completely missing a requirement, yellow for marginal compliance with a requirement, green for meets, and blue for exceeds.

5.    A defensive strategy is always a bad one, especially with respect to new technology.

6.    There are three reasons for a project to invest in technology… The first is that it provides information on what is happening on the leading edge so that out of date designs can be avoided, and the design of the product will be based on new technology.  The second is that the research, if based on the right ideas, can produce useful results that will enhance the performance or reduce the cost of the product.  The third is that your customers and potential partners make their decisions to do business with you in part on whether they think that you are on the technology edge with respect to the proposed product.

7.    The key to managing research is to recognize three fundamental points.  First, be aware that researchers can spend the entire Gross Domestic Product on very interesting work…Second, you have to recognize that not everyone can do effective research…Third, you must understand that researchers can do research on an infinite number of subjects.  The key is to identify which research subjects have leverage on your product and its mission.

8.    You have to do research.  Figure out how much you can afford.  Make sure you choose researchers wisely.  Make them show you what effect their successful research would have on your product’s mission parameters.

9.    Everyone scores you, especially yourself, and, if you have integrity you are so labeled.  You will find that whichever label you get stuck with strongly affects your self respect, and your ability to make future deals.

10.    Creativity of value occurs in minds that are very knowledgeable about a subject and have struggled with a problem for some time.  These minds are able to look at a problem from new angles.  They challenge the assumptions that everyone else makes.  Often they just formulate the problem differently in such a way that the unexpected solutions become obvious.

11.    When you chose individuals to promote or transfer to your program start with smart, but recognize that a large percent of smart individuals have poor judgment or can’t make a decision.  Smart is a necessary but not sufficient condition.

12.    Recognize that the hardest part of forming a team of smart, competent aggressive managers is keeping them from fighting with each other and with you.  Good program managers spend a significant portion of their time on team building.

This book was written in 1998, draws on experience in the Aerospace industry, is an easy read and contains some political commentary.  It's truths will resonate with anyone challenged in the real world of program management.

Dr. James T. Brown, PMP PE, Author, The Handbook of Program Management - McGraw-Hill

Copyright 2011 SEBA Solutions Inc.

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