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Rescuing Prometheus





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About the book:

Thomas Hughes takes an in-depth look at four giant technological projects of the post-World War II era. He paints a portrait of the evolving organizational structures and ever-improving management styles that have enabled engineer managers and their teams to accomplish the near-impossible. The four projects are the Semiautomatic Ground Environment (SAGE) air defense project, the Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile project, the development of ARPANET/Internet, and the construction of Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel. Each of these undertakings broke new ground, requiring new techniques to overcome daunting obstacles and foster interdisciplinary cooperation.

As a study in management, the book begins its coverage of managerial evolution with the development of systems engineering. Systems engineering reduced much of management to scientific principles and was critical to the successful interaction that created SAGE. However, later projects proved that the strict science of systems engineering failed when the system to be engineered included a large human element. Hughes shows how a flattening of the management structure and the enhanced use of diverse teams enables the continuing Boston Central Artery/Tunnel project to proceed. Not only does that plan allow for the wide diversity of human interaction but it embraces it. Project management relies on continuing input from all facets of Boston's social and political scene to shape the project as it develops.

Hughes celebrates the role that idealism, as well as creativity, has often played in technological achievements. In today's sociopolitical environment, when many people look upon military-based research and development with a jaundiced eye, it's easy to forget that such projects as SAGE and the Atlas missile were driven by an idealistic belief in the need to protect our society from what was then perceived as a clear danger from a declared enemy.

Hughes's step-by-step examination of how each project team met its challenges is both thought-provoking and insightful. If the Dilbert's-eye view of technology and management has become a bit too depressing, here's a book that reminds us that we are capable of anything. --Elizabeth Lewis

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