Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sketching at the British Museum

A Chinese lion figurine:

Chinese lion at Chinese New Year Chinese lion at Chinese New Year

Oliver Cromwell's wax death-mask:

Oliver Cromwell's wax death-mask Oliver Cromwell's wax death-mask

Pericles:

Pericles Pericles

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Engineer's insight into management

It's been a while since I posted last time - not because of nothing happening around, more likely because of the opposite. There are too many things to tell about, actually, but they're still in progress and I'd rather tell the results when I'm sure.

I have stumbled upon the NASA ebooks recently and started with a shorter one by Erasmus H. Kloman which provides an unusual angle on two unmanned lunar projects, The Surveyor and The Lunar Orbiter. The unusual part is that it's neither a chronicle nor a popular science - this is the first book on space exploration I read which focuses entirely on project management.

I used to work as project manager myself and while I shifted back to engineering after realising it wasn't my cup of tea for many reasons, I still remember the main thing that used to puzzle me, particularly how to formalise those practices which are best described as "common sense". It works perfectly fine for one person, but with more people involved the conceptions start to blur and when you try to keep them universal and clear you find yourself either repeating something everyone finds obvious and thus useless or something tailored to suit a single specific process only.

Widely speaking, that's my problem with the occupations that rely more on experience and human skills rather than on theory and knowledge - "if you don't have to study to do that, probably anyone could be doing that instead of you". I know that's rude and not always correct, so I'm not making a statement here but sharing my bias to explain why I found that book surprisingly exciting. When something you used to regard as non-technical skill results directly in a success of one complicated tech project, it helps to calibrate your perception of the problem and priorities.

While the author admits that some things can be hardly put into a textbook ("No formal arrangement can replace the dynamic system of personal and informal relations developed by key members of the project team"), the structure of the project and relationships between involved organisations and individuals is still very well demonstrated.

If you relate to project management somehow, you probably should read it.