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Notes from "How Big Things Get Done"

My notes from "How Big Things Get Done: The Surprising Factors That Determine the Fate of Every Project, from Home Renovations to Space Exploration and Everything in Between" by Bent Flyvbjerg and Dan Gardner


Eleven heuristics for better project leadership:


  1. Hire a master builder.  You want someone with deep domain experience and a proven track record of success in whatever you're doing.

  2. Get your team right.  When possible, hire a master builder and the master builder's team.

  3. Ask why.  Good leaders never lose sight of the ultimate goal.

  4. Build with lego.  Big is best built from small.  Build modular.  What is the smallest building unit?

  5. Think slow, act fast.  Almost any nightmare you can image happens during delivery.  Limit your exposure to this by taking the time to plan.

  6. Take the outside view.  Your project is special, but not unique.  Switching your focus from your project to the reference class your project belongs to leads to a more accurate understanding of your project.

  7. Watch your downside.  Risk can kill you or your project, and no upside can compensate for that.

  8. Say no and walk away.  Staying focused is essential for getting projects done.  Saying no is essential for staying focused.

  9. Make friends and keep them friendly.  Build your relationships before you need them.

  10. Build climate mitigation into your project.  No task today is more urgent.

  11. Know that your biggest risk is you.  Your biggest risk is your own biases and blindspots.


Aristotle defined phronesis as the dual ability to see what things are good for people and the ability to get those things done.

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