Monday, October 4, 2010

Big programs and Grand Challenges

"Grand challenges" may be over the top, but I have three books to recommend if you get a return on reading factual history about big programs. I am always looking for insight from the thinking and experience of program managers who took on the big challenge, and these three books do it for me:

"A Firey Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the ultimate Weapon", by Neil Sheehan, still in bookstores. A truly fascinating read about how a Colonel in the Air Force managed to invent the ICBM program that brought Thor, Atlas, Titan, and Minuteman along in about 10 years. The colonel also managed to collect 4 stars. Along the way, he invented system engineering, the embedded system integration contractor concept, and the aerospace firm TRW.

"The Pentagon: A history", by Steve Vogel, the story of how a brigadier in the Army, General Brehon Somervell manages to force not only the Washington establishment, including FDR, to do his will, but also how he inspired, motivated, and drove his project team to put up the Pentagon in the nine months from July 1941 to April 1942. In any objective evaluation, this was a monumental feat of program management. Like Schriever, Somervell went on to 4 stars.

and, of course, the classic:

"Failure is Not an Option" by Gene Kranz. For risk managers, this one is an eye opener. OMG! the risks they took. Along the way, they all but invented an entirely new paradigm for risk management: Failure Mode and Effects Analysis, FMEA. General Sam Phillips, who was Schriever's Minuteman PM was tapped to be the Apollo PM. Phillips is the guy that brought 'all up' testing to Apollo from the ICBM PEO. And Phillips also went on to 4 stars and a distinguished career post NASA.

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