Saturday, February 02, 2008

Multimedia Case Studies - NASA

NASA's APPEL (Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership) project develops case studies that "illustrate the kinds of decisions and dilemmas managers face every day, and as such provide an effective learning tool for project management. Due to the dynamic and complex environment of projects, a great deal of project management knowledge is tacit and hard to formalize. A case study captures the complex nature of a project and identifies key decision points, allowing the reader an inside look at the project from a practitioner's point of view."

This is what I want to do when I grow up. I want to create case studies based on projects, case studies that capture the complexity of real-life projects.

You don't truly learn project lessons unless you've lived through the project (and paid attention to what was going on). Alternatively, you can "re-live" the project through a well-documented case study. That's what case teaching tries to achieve in business schools, laws schools and many other places of learning. So, why are we not using this approach as much in international development?

The most powerful training I have ever attended was scenario-based. Training scenarios based in real-life situations allow you to internalize what you may have learned in a lecture setting or a manual. The most powerful job interview I have ever had the pleasure of participating in was scenario-based. Is there any better way to test someone's ability to perform the job than to ask them how they would handle some of the job's most demanding tasks? Why don't we train project managers with case studies? The answer is that we don't have that many good case studies. We write success stories to demonstrate that we've done well, not case studies to learn and share what we've learned.

Part of the challenge is that we are not comfortable discussing ongoing or completed projects in anything other than the "success story" mode. We're not comfortable talking about what went wrong and what could have been done better.

Another challenge is that completed projects are in the past. We've moved on to other projects and we're not that interested in retrospective analysis. At best, we've perhaps integrated some lessons learned from a project into the design of the next project. The lessons learned essentially stay within the team and are not shared more broadly within the organization or externally.

Try the NEAR Case Study.

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