Space Command Learn-and-Steer Origin Case Study

Novel, first of a kind projects, begin without a full understanding of the problem to be addressed and the details of the solution. This incomplete information entails uncertainly as the how long it will take to deliver an acceptable solution. Successful management of these projects requires working–off the uncertainty by filling in the missing information throughout the effort. The Aptage Risk Burndown service was developed to measure and manage the uncertainty, the risk of an unsuccessful delivery on projects with any level of uncertainty. Progress is measured by how the risk goes down.

Here is an early example of applying the Aptage style of management:

A Federally Funded Research and Development Corporation (FFRDC) was tasked by Space Command to build an intelligence system. While the overall mission was understood by all the parties, there was a lot of uncertainty on what the system actually needed to do and how it would work. Nevertheless, a detailed initial work plan was put in place. As should have been expected, the plan was not adhered to and program was heading to failure.

Dr. Murray Cantor was brought in as project manager to salvage the program. As an early adopter of the learn-and-steer approach to management, he re-planned the project as a set of iterations.  The early iterations were focused on removing the most risk by leading the team to build a robust design that could accommodate change. The next iterations entailed working with the sponsors to jointly manage scope, time trade-offs, removing uncertainty as the program evolved.

The program recovered and the system was successfully deployed per the re-planned schedule. As a result, Dr. Cantor was asked to create a course on how to manage big risky programs. That course resulted in his book Object-Oriented Project Management, published by Prentice Hall.

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