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Topic: February 2011
Date: Tuesday - February 15, 2010
Topic: The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
Speaker: Rick Brenner


The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers

On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interest-ing enough. But to project managers, the story is fascinating.

We'll use the history of this event to explore ten important lessons about manag-ing complex projects. From this story we can learn ten lessons in project man-agement, including lessons about leadership, planning, scope creep, risk man-agement, improvisation, discipline, organizational politics, team dynamics, tech-nology management, and simplicity.

Each of these principles is illustrated with a story from the Race to the South Pole, comparing the approaches used by the two teams. The result is a lively, in-teresting program that deals with these ten topics in a memorable way.

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About the Speaker

Rick Brenner

Rick Brenner is principal of Chaco Canyon Consulting. He works with people in dynamic problem-solving organizations that are making products so novel or complex that they need state-of-the-art teamwork and stronger relationships among their people. In his 25 years as a software developer, project manager, software development manager, entrepreneur, consultant and coach, he has de-veloped valuable insights into the interactions between people in complex dy-namic environments, and between people and the media in which they work.

As a coach, he works with managers at all levels, emphasizing development of in-terpersonal skills, especially in fluid, high-stress contexts, such as organizations that are moving from a strict operational orientation to one in which ongoing op-erations must compete for resources with special enterprise-scale projects. Such a mixed environment creates organizational stresses that leaders must under-stand, not only because of the change-related issues that arise, but also because of the challenges to managers that they create, even when equilibrium is at-tained.

Over a period of seven years, he attended or assisted in numerous workshops under Jerry Weinberg, Dani Weinberg and Jean McLendon. It was during this pe-riod that he acquired his skills in designing and facilitating experiential education. He was a founding member of the AYE Conference.

Mr. Brenner has held positions at Symbolics, Inc., and at Draper Laboratory, both of Cambridge, Massachusetts. At Symbolics, he was responsible for development of products based on Macsyma, a computer algebra system. At Draper, he was a principal investigator in a DARPA program, the Evolutionary Design of Complex Software, where he conducted research into advanced concepts for software de-velopment environments based on dynamic object-oriented programming lan-guages. Since 1993, he has taught Spreadsheet Models for Managers, a course he devised, at the Harvard University Extension School.

He serves as the facilitator and group administrator for a discussion group he created at Office Politics, Workplace Politics and Organizational Politics. Discussions there are energetic and enlightening. The group now has over 400 members.

Mr. Brenner holds a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering from MIT. He is a member of the National Speakers Association (NSA), the Boston Software Proc-ess Improvement Network, and the Agile Bazaar Chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery. He has served in various leadership roles ranging from board member to vice president to chair (president) in local chapters of these so-cieties. He was selected Chapter Member of the Year for NSA New England in 2001 and 2007.

His current interests focus on improving personal and organizational effectiveness in abnormal situations, such as dramatic change, enterprise emergencies, and high-pressure project environments. He has written a number of essays on these subjects, available at his Web site, , and writes and publishes a weekly email newsletter, Point Lookout, which now has just un-der 3,000 subscribers.


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