UWCPL Current Research

Based on the groundbreaking approach of author Dr. Alexander Laufer

On Becoming a Project Leader

The Consortium has recently embarked on a new study attempting to shed light on the development of successful project managers. In this study, Alex Laufer, Terry Little, and Jeffrey Russell are interviewing 8 successful project managers representing a variety of industrial sectors. The interviews focus on the key learning and unlearning experiences that have shaped the project managers' minds and behavior throughout their careers, as well as on their current managerial philosophy.

Following are 4 examples of stories demonstrating learning and unlearning experiences and the current managerial philosophy of Terry Little.

An epiphany experience that shaped Terry’s mind and behavior: Epiphany on the Side of the Road

Early in my career, I had a casual conversation with someone who was working for me on a program. This conversation totally changed my presumptions about peoples’ motivations and explains why I place so much importance on establishing goals for the project and seeing that the team embraces them.

Late one night, this colleague, Jimmy, and I were driving together in Los Angeles. As we were entering the freeway, another car abruptly changed lanes and collided with our car.

A crucible experience that shaped Terry’s mind and behavior: The Don Quixote Complex

Prelude to a Mistake

I've made plenty of mistakes in my career, but the one that I think of as providing the greatest learning opportunities occurred while I was program manager of a large Department of Defense (DoD) project designated by Congress as an acquisition reform program. I was told I would have my department's support to try almost anything—so long as it wasn't illegal—to improve acquisition in DoD.

One of the things that came to me was to emulate a practice used by many commercial companies: profit sharing. I wanted to establish a way for the people working for me to share in the savings of the program.

Terry’s philosophy about how best to develop on the job: Swim or Sink

The traditional view of career development in the government goes something like this: Start your career as a functional apprentice. Become a functional expert over time by exhibiting “technical leadership” (whatever that means). Over time, seek out positions of increasingly greater responsibility with corresponding job titles. Make a gradual transition from a specialty focus to a managerial focus.

Along the way submit to some vaccinations such as getting a Masters or PhD degree, attending some prestige courses, accepting a Headquarters assignment, and working at two or more field locations. Show some significant persistence and heaps of personal sacrifice. Avoid the big mistake. Burn no bridges.

A metaphor that explains Terry managerial philosophy: The Television Show

Contrary to what my wife would say, I don't watch much television. I do, however, regularly watch one show on the Learning Channel—the reality series called Trauma: Life in the E.R.

While watching the last episode, I recognized parallels between what was going on in the emergency room, with its host of accident and gunshot wound victims, and what goes on in successful project management.

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