What Commercial Real Estate Leaders can Learn From NASA's "Monday Notes"
NASA's "Monday Notes" initiative was one of the greatest management tools pioneered by the director of Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), Wernher von Braun, back in the early 1960s. It was designed as a tool to enhance communication between Von Braun and engineers as well as administrators several layers under him. This management approach was very pivotal in enabling the success of NASA's Apollo program in the 1960s; and there are several things managers today can learn from this strategy.
How did Wernher von Braun use the Monday Notes?
Von Braun used Monday notes to attain weekly reports from his senior managers and engineers about their progress, problems encountered, and issues that needed his attention. The reports were to be submitted in a simple format, be one page long, and have a paragraph style description. Submitted on each Monday morning, Von Braun required those making the submissions to give frank assessments and reports about all the on-goings in their area of work. He encouraged honesty among the reporters by promising there would be no repercussions for poor decisions, unresolved problems, and the like.
This process became such a huge success within the program that the director decided to extend the scope to about two dozen officials within MSFC. In no time, lab directors, project managers, and other key select personnel were also sending in their reports to Von Braun.
Upon receiving reports, he would go through each one and note marginal comments either congratulating the success achieved in certain areas, requesting explanations for certain cases, making suggestions, or in some cases giving feedback and constructive criticism. After the review, he would then ask his secretary to make a copy of each report and send a set of each to the reporters. That way, each manager or administrator would know what was going on in the other departments of the program.
Facilitating Vertical and Horizontal Communication
Some might conclude that the feedback from the Director as well as the inter-coordination between departments was critical as a management tool in this instance. It enhanced both vertical and horizontal communication within MFSC in ways that the management had not imagined before. Departments could now communicate and understand each other better through these reports. The notes also provided direct and easy access to the MSFC director for employees at many levels.
This new methodology also worked magic in enhancing communication down the ladder to workers lower in the chain of command. Some managers and heads of departments required their subordinates to write up similar short notes for them and pass them up to them. They would then compile the inputs on these notes and make their report to Von Braun. This enhanced communication throughout the organization; and the results when it came to planning, coordination, and monitoring were tremendous.
Finally, Monday Notes served as a court of last resort in resolving the differences between organizations at the MSFC. Various departments could present the notes to act as legal briefs in front of an arbiter. They could also use them to present their case before Von Braun and explain their perspective on challenging issues as well as their proposed solutions. The notes ensured that all departments received the attention of senior management and any problem would therefore be given the required attention.
Key Aspects of This Management Approach
Healthy conflicts between departments enhanced the progress of the MSFC's programs. Having the forum and freedom to engage in healthy disagreements between departments and then come together to help create solutions was critical in the success of the program
The leaders of today can still utilize this management approach; with advances in technology and project management software, the process can be even more streamlined. In an increasingly busy world, directors and managers need to make informed decisions relatively quickly. This approach might be a way to cut through the noise, deliver information efficiently, and increase coordination throughout a project.
Anthony Gilbert is the owner of The RealFX Group. Anthony specializes in real estate lead generation and management.