Welcome to our first Monthly Dinner event of 2017. We're excited to present Dr. Ed Hoffman, NASA's Chief Knowledge Officer. He works within NASA as well as with leaders of industry, academia, professional associations, and other government agencies to develop the agency's capabilities in program and project management and engineering. Please take moment to learn about this esteemed speaker.



Q&A with Ed Hoffman

What does engagement mean to you when working on complex projects?

Engagement is important when the work we do relies on many people and the actual accomplishment is reliant on people at different locations and with different perspectives. In such a situation people make all of the decisions and their level of engagement equates with commitment, passion, alignment, and doing whatever is necessary for project success. People are engaged on a project when they have a clear and meaningful goal, they work with colleagues they like, communication is active, collaboration is the norm, feedback is plentiful and there is the chance to use my mind and talent for the benefit of the team.


Would you mind sharing some factors to consider for project performance?

If we are talking about factors that promote high performance this is an area that we know much. High performance comes from strong and effective leadership that is committed to organization strategy and goals. There is clear alignment between a project and organizational strategy. Projects are perceived as adding benefit and value to the mission. People are treated with open communication, respect and inclusion. There is a culture of conversation and dialogue. Mistakes and failures are openly and quickly addressed as opposed to being avoided or silenced. High performance goes along with cultures of trust, communication, learning, curiosity and focus on meaningful work. There is an integration amongst disciplines, especially program management and systems engineering. Finally, it is important to listen to the stories of a project. Every project is a story, and people will tell stories that are of success and engagement or of silence and doubt.


What is your greatest achievement at NASA?

I had the privilege to be a part of many great initiatives at NASA. The founder and director of the NASA Academy, being the first Agency Chief Knowledge Officer, project manager for the strategic management and governance handbook. However, far and away the greatest achievement has to do with being a part of the learning and development of a generation of thoughtful, smart and ethical leaders and practitioners of engineering and project management. At my retirement a person thanked me for teaching the importance of learning. That’s the highest compliment.


How much has intuition played in your career and what advice can you share about using our own intuition?

Intuition is reading a situation and being able to call on previous experience, learning and capability. To me it is the ability to respond well because a person is self-aware, open to improve, sensitive to the context, and willing to learn. The learning can come from education, travel, reading, relationships, experience, stories, where we were born. The main thing is the openness to learning and commitment to growth. If defined that way, intuition is critical for success and a good life.


What does project failure mean to you?

Project failure is completely connected to how we define success. That is why success criteria is so important to discuss. Sometimes a project exists to transform a society, and the most important factor is ultimate performance. In such a situation cost or schedule may be less important. Failure can be a very good thing if it is a project geared toward fast learning or new research and the failure provides a critical lesson. So the context is important.

In general, failure can be a very good thing. My experience is that the best people, teams and organizations get profoundly better after a failure. So the key is to learn, discuss, address and get better. The greatest achievements are built on a foundation of failures.


What books have inspired you or ones that you have recommended most?

I love books so picking one is impossible. However, shortly after I was brought to NASA Headquarters to lead in the development of the Academy, I came upon a project management book that was unlike others at the time. It was ‘Simultaneous Management – Managing Projects in a Dynamic Environment (1996) by Alexander Laufer. That book used short stories to illustrate key principles, it also emphasized the leadership and people aspects of a project. That was very different for a project management book at the time. That book became very inspirational and influential for me.


Simultaneous Management – Managing Projects in a Dynamic Environment, Alexander Laufer.


Similarly, when I was appointed the NASA Chief Knowledge Officer in 2010, my favorite book was ‘Working Knowledge’ by Davenport and Prusak. To me it is still the best articulation of knowledge management in an organizational setting. It was very profound and real.


Working Knowledge, Davenport and Prusak.


Do you have any particular morning routines?

Just happy to wake up in the morning. I am a night owl.


Thank you Ed for taking the time to answer our questions and allowing us to get to know you better. We are looking forward to your presentation on a journey towards excellence.

For anyone that is interested in learning more about the event A Journey Toward Project Excellence: Successful Strategies and Lessons for Building an Engaged and Talented Workforce or to register please click below.