NASA published a list of 122 lessons learned in project management some 10 years ago. I only just found it but can attest to most of them and I believe the rest. Only, NASA seem to take project management a lot more seriously, probably because lives are on the line.
4. Redundancy in hardware can be a fiction. We are adept at building things to be identical so that if one fails, the other will also fail. Make sure all hardware is treated in a build as if it were one of a kind and needed for mission success.
5. Don’t be afraid to fail or you will not succeed, but always work at your skill to recover. Part of that skill is knowing who can help.
6. Experience may be fine but testing is better. Knowing something will work never takes the place of proving that it will.
9. In olden times, engineers had hands-on experience, technicians understood how the electronics worked and what it was supposed to do, and layout technicians knew too. But today only the computer knows for sure, and it’s not talking.
22. Talk is not cheap. The best way to understand a personnel or technical problem is to talk to the right people. Lack of talk at the right levels is deadly.
30. One of the advantages of NASA in the early days was the fact that everyone knew that the facts that we were absolutely sure of could be wrong. [my note: think about that one]
40. People who monitor work and don’t help get it done, never seem to know exactly what is going on.
46. Too many project managers think a spoken agreement carries the same weight as one put in writing. It doesn’t. People vanish and change positions. Important decisions must be documented.
50. One must pay 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, causing 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.
57. A puzzle is hard to discern from just one piece, so don’t be surprised if team members deprived of information reach the wrong conclusion.
61. A working meeting has about six people attending. Meetings larger than this are for information transfer.
68. Never assume someone knows something or has done something unless you have asked them. Even the obvious is overlooked or ignored on occasion– especially in a high-stress activity.
75. Meetings, meetings. A projects manager’s staff meeting should last 5 minutes minimum– 1 hour max. Less than 5 minutes and you probably didn’t need the meeting; longer than 1 hour, it becomes a bull session. [my note: bull session = informal group discussion]
78. The project manager who is the smartest man on his project has done a lousy job of recruitment.
80. Never ask management to make a decision that you can make. Assume you have the authority to make decisions unless you know there is a document that states unequivocally that you cannot.
81. Managers who rely on the paperwork to do the reporting of activities are known failures.
101. An agency’s age can be estimated by the number of reports and meetings it has. The older it gets, the more the paperwork increases and the less product is delivered per dollar. Many people have suggested that an agency self-destruct every 25 years and be reborn starting from scratch.
103. In political decisions, do not look for logic– look for politics.
107. Too many people at Headquarters believe the myth that you can reduce the food to the horse every day till you get a horse that requires no food. They try to do the same with projects, which eventually end up as dead as the horse.
110. Contractors tend to size up their government counterparts, and staff their part of the project accordingly. If they think yours are clunkers, they will take their poorer people to put on your project.