Learn much from Master Yoda, Padawan Project Managers can!
In honor of Star Wars Day, here are some of the Jedi Master’s quotations and the project management lessons they can teach us.
“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future” – Project managers sometimes get obsessed with developing and maintaining “perfect” project schedules, resource forecasts or other planning artifacts. Always remember that a plan is just a model developed from assumptions and incomplete knowledge, and as things change, plans must evolve to remain relevant and useful, hence there is absolutely such a thing as doing too much planning.
Luke: “I don’t believe it.” Yoda: “That is why you fail.” – On long, challenging projects, it can become difficult for project managers to maintain belief in their project’s odds of success. If the project manager starts to resemble the Ancient Mariner, more often that not, this doubt will infect the rest of the team and the project manager’s forecast of failure will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we were to consult Guinan (crossing from Star Wars into the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe), she’d say “When a man is convinced he’s going to die tomorrow, he’ll probably find a way to make it happen”. Care should be taken with this advice as blind optimism is equally dangerous – if a project is truly doomed, it is the professional responsibility of the project manager to make their customer, sponsor & key stakeholders aware of this such that appropriate triage and recovery can occur.
“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you?” – A critical error in judgment a project manager can make is to underestimate the complexity of what appears to be a very straightforward, small project. This assumption could cause the project manager to abandon good project planning practices such as stakeholder analysis and risk identification which might have revealed more subtle challenges.
“If no mistake you have made, losing you are” – A common question I ask candidates who are interviewing for project manager roles is: “What is your greatest failure as a project manager, and what did you learn from it?”. I believe that good project managers, like swords, are forged in hot flames and beaten on anvils, and hence any project manager who claims to have never suffered a failure is not self-aware or is just trying to fool themselves.
“You must unlearn what you have learned” – Any project manager striving to achieve their PMP certification would do well to heed this advice. When it comes to project management nomenclature and processes, there are as many variants in practice as there are alien races in the Star Wars universe. Hence, it can be challenging for seasoned project managers to study for the exam as they will need to induce a Jedi mind-trick on themselves so that they can recall PMBOK’s use of common PM terms and practices.
In closing, I’ll leave you with Yoda’s most famous quotation, which should be used by project managers to confirm the commitment of senior stakeholders to whom they have escalated issues or risks: “Do. Or Do Not. There is No Try.“