PMI Book Report: R.E.A.L. Knowledge at NASA

These are my notes from reading “R.E.A.L. Knowledge at NASA” by Hoffman and Boyle.

How can organizations and practitioners best leverage project knowledge and knowledge services to get things done in the modern complex project environment?

R.E.A.L. Knowledge at NASA by Hoffman and Boyle describes a project practitioner-centered Knowledge Model drawn from experience in the development of knowledge services at NASA.


Sources of Failure in Project Organizations

– 56% of strategic initiatives meet original goals and business intent
– 48% of projects that are not highly aligned to organizational strategy succeed
– top frustration in under-35 workers is bureaucracy politics and no time to create/innovate

NASA is a project organization

The driver is mission success but complexity can get on the way

– poorly defined priorities and strategy
– too many stakeholders with multiple levels of influence and interest
– interdisciplinary technical complexity
– increased data to analyze and use and input
– overlapping, conflicting/competing and outdated processes.


The Challenger disaster, Mars mission failures prompted a shift from individual/team capabilities to shared stories and policy guidelines to prevent mistakes.

To provide a systemic approach to capturing implicit and explicit knowledge, NASA created the Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) position. Lessons are encouraged to be shared within teams and integrated across the agency.

The CKO is not expected to oversee and manage but to champion for knowledge services. People and systems are encouraged to collaborate across all axis.


A Agency Knowledge Map to link knowledge and resources was created to include:

– Online Tools: collaboration sites, video libraries, repositories.
– Search/Tag/Taxonomy Tools
– Case Study/Publications
– Lessons Learned and Knowledge Processes
– Knowledge Networks
– Social Exchanges

The CKO has also built relationships with local and international agencies.

Strategic knowledge systems perspective uncovers and defines project relationships. Knowledge imperatives have been developed to help project teams.

– Leaders: align projects with organizational strategy, mission and goals
– Recognize that it’s a Project World: and the need for methodology accordingly
– Knowledge: organized and ready to be adapted to new situations
– Talent Management
– Portfolio Management: allowing the adjustment of organizational expectations
– Certifications: objective and validated standards
– Transparency: of issues and errors
– Frugal Innovation
– Accelerated Learning: relevant with state-of-the-art technologies
– Problem-Centric Approach
– Governance, Business Management, and Operations
– Digital Technology: New frontiers of data and tools to make sense of it

The REAL Model: Rapid Engagement through Accelerated Learning Model

Promote capabilities to better define a program

Progression of knowledge activity:

# Item Characteristics
1 Challenge/Opportunity is selected and prioritized Leadership/ Knowledge/ Project World/ Portfolio/ Problem-centric
2 Learning project plan complimenting the charter pmp Knowledge/ Accelerated Learning/ Frugal Innovation/ Governance/ Business Management/ Operations
3 Recruit functional communities with points of contact Leadership/ Project World/ Knowledge/ Talent Management
4 Operational KM cycle Knowledge/ Technology/ Frugal Innovation/ Accelerated Learning
5 Leverage Individual and Team Knowledge Knowledge/ Talent Management/ Accelerated Learning/ Transparency/ Frugal Innovation/ Certification
6 Define environment expectations Leadership/ Knowledge/ Transparency/ Frugal Innovation/ Accelerated Learning/ Digital Technology/ Governance/ Business Management/ Operations
7 Project closing Knowledge/ Portfolio Management/ Transparency/ Accelerated Learning/ Governance/ Business Management/ Operations/ Digital Technology


Identification of Critical Knowledge for the REAL model determines whether it:

– has broad applications
– top 5% of updatable knowledge
– keeps evolving
– lends itself to formal process

REAL Model Applications Examples

– Radiation Dosimetry Experiment (RaD-X)
– High Energy Replicated Optics to Explore the Sun (HEROES)
– Coastal and Ocean Airborne Science Testbed (COAST)


The REAL Model is a starting framework to ensure identification of the breadth of knowledge components and serves as a map for future research on normative project knowledge models

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