The Smart Mission

The Smart Mission

NASA's Lessons for Managing Knowledge, People, and Projects

By Edward J. Hoffman, Matthew Kohut and Laurence Prusak

Why human skills and expertise, not technical tools, are what make projects succeed.





Why human skills and expertise, not technical tools, are what make projects succeed.

The project is the basic unit of work in many industries. Software applications, antiviral vaccines, launch-ready spacecraft: all were produced by a team and managed as a project. Project management emphasizes control, processes, and tools—but, according to The Smart Mission, that is not the right way to run a project. Human skills and expertise, not technical tools, are what make projects successful. Projects run on knowledge. This paradigm-shifting book—by three project management experts, all of whom have decades of experience at NASA and elsewhere—challenges the conventional wisdom on project management, focusing on the human dimension: learning, collaboration, teaming, communication, and culture.

The authors emphasize three themes: projects are fundamentally about how teams work and learn together to get things done; the local level—not an organization's upper levels—is where the action happens; and projects don't operate in a vacuum but exist within organizations that are responsible to stakeholders. Drawing on examples and case studies from NASA and other organizations, the authors identify three project models—micro, macro, and global—and their different knowledge needs. Successful organizations have a knowledge-based culture. Successful project management guides the interplay of knowledge, projects, and people.

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$26.95 T ISBN: 9780262046886 176 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 6 charts


  • “This book is about people (often a missing ingredient), knowledge, and the grand value of stories….and oh yes, projects too. The three authors gave me more concrete advice on leading people, knowledge, and projects in this book than I could have ever learned from hiring an outside consultant for a year.”

    E. LaVerne Johnson

    Founder, President and CEO, International Institute for Learning, Inc.

  • “Every leader who leads and manages teams should read The Smart Mission. It explains the intangibles of successful knowledge organizations in a tangible way. The authors master the art of explaining how people culture, process, and relationships drive the successes and failures of projects. The book helped me to gain clarity and focus about the challenges we try to solve in our organization.”

    Susann Roth

    Chief of Knowledge Management, Asian Development Bank

  • “This book supplements and corrects the somewhat sterile project management literature. It recognizes that successful projects are about acquiring and applying knowledge. And NASA provides the perfect example. Whatever your type of moonshot, The Smart Mission will help land it.”

    Thomas H. Davenport

    Distinguished Professor, Babson College, and Visiting Professor, Oxford Saïd Business School; author of The AI Advantage, Competing on Analytics, and Working Knowledge

  • “Intangibles such as knowledge, learning and culture are the source of productivity and innovation in any organization. However, intangibles by nature are extremely hard to measure or manage, until The Smart Mission. It cracks the code with principles and practices gained through NASA's long journey. It's a must-read for managers and knowledge-workers, especially those at project-based organizations.”

    Naoki Ogiwara

    Managing Director, Knowledge Associates Japan

  • “Every mission should be a Smart Mission. NASA has paid high costs to learn these lessons, and Ed Hoffman, Matthew Kohut, and Larry Prusak have distilled and refined them as tools for any program or project.”

    Peter Temes

    President, Institute for Innovation in Large Organizations; author of The Power of Purpose, The Just War, and We the People