Rescue hero: Harold Bell

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Rescue heroes

When program manager Harold Bell came to the Federal Aviation Administration's Satellite Navigation Program five years ago, Capitol Hill leaders were about to cancel the project that had lured him to the agency.

The $4.2 billion Global Positioning System-based Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) was supposed to generate precise lateral and vertical coordinates to guide aircraft landing at airports in the continental United States and Alaska. Twenty-five new ground stations would remove errors from horizontal GPS data. The new system would provide highly accurate altitude data via satellite broadcast. That information would be especially helpful to pilots flying in bad weather.

But Congress targeted WAAS for cancellation in 2000 because it was more than two years behind schedule. Termination would have affected the safety of more than 200,000 general aviation pilots and regional airline pilots.

Under Bell's direction, the FAA has restored confidence in WAAS. Congress granted full funding and pledged an additional $5 million for the procurement of a new geostationary satellite for the system. WAAS went live in July 2003, right on time.

How did he do it? The key was small bites, said Bell, former program manager of GPS satellite-based augmentation services at the FAA who is now a systems engineer in NASA's Office of the Chief Engineer. Bell is a Project Management Institute-certified Project Management Professional. "What I brought to the team was some organization," he said.

The countdown to 2003 was tracked on an office banner. If employees met due dates for software, hardware and other services, Bell celebrated the successes publicly with letters of recognition and, when possible, cash rewards and promotions.

Bell kept an eye on the big picture by having all contractors report earned value management data monthly. EVM, however, was not the most useful discipline, he said.

"We had so many problems at first, and we were such a high-visibility, political program that senior management required us to report to them every other week until we delivered operational service," he said. "This high-level oversight gave the program some real horsepower when it was needed."

Advice from the pros

Name: Harold Bell.

Former title: Program manager of Global Positioning System satellite-based augmentation services.

Organization: Federal Aviation Administration.

Project: Wide Area Augmentation System.

On managing people: "You make commitments and promises within your span of control, and then you follow through. You do a lot of listening, and you grab good ideas and make them a reality. You give credit where credit is due, you never take credit for something that someone else did, and you build ideas with the team and not by yourself."

On managing processes: The system had good processes in place when Bell arrived. His job was to make sure the team followed those processes and that everyone had documentation for them.

On managing technology: Project managers must give clear directions for maintaining existing technology and identifying when new technology is necessary, he said.

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