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The Smart Mission

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

By Edward J. Hoffman, Matthew Kohut & Laurence Prusak

The Smart Mission


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.



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.


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The Authors

Edward J. Hoffman

Edward J. Hoffman

Edward J. Hoffman, currently CEO of Knowledge Strategies, LLC, and Senior Lecturer at Columbia University, was NASA's first Chief Knowledge Officer and founder of the NASA Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership (APPEL). Following the Columbia shuttle failure, he led the team that designed the Strategic Management and Governance Handbook. He is the coauthor of Shared Voyage: Learning and Unlearning from Remarkable Projects.

Matthew Kohut

Matthew Kohut

Matthew Kohut is the co-author of Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential. He has prepared CEOs, elected officials, entrepreneurs, ambassadors, scientists, and best-selling authors for events ranging from television appearances to board meetings to TED talks. Matt has held appointments at George Washington University and Bennington College. His writing has appeared in publications ranging from Harvard Business Review to Newsweek.

Laurence Prusak

Laurence Prusak

Laurence Prusak has been a senior knowledge advisor to NASA, McKinsey, and the World Bank and a former senior lecturer  Larry is a former senior lecture at Columbia University. He was the founder and executive director of the IBM Institute for Knowledge Management and one of the  founding partners for the Ernst and Young Center for Business Innovation. He is the coauthor of Working Knowledge, a widely cited text about how knowledge works in organizations, as well as seven other books and more than fifty articles.



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