Back To Basics with 007

James Bond’s Troubled Project Recovery

I wasn’t consulted about the inclusion of the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, on the list of contenders for an Academy Award for Best Picture, but if I had been I would have been most enthusiastically supportive.

It’s a troubled project recovery adventure like none I’ve ever managed!  This Bond offers great reminders of the basics that any project manager would do well to remember when things are going badly.  Even very, very badly. 

Finding himself in the trenches of a project gone seriously wrong, Bond almost loses sight of the tried, true, and timeless best practices that had served him well for so long.  Fortunately, he is only temporarily shaken and once stirred up, he demonstrates just how exciting project management basics really are.

Basics #1  The Best Tool Is the One That Works

Bond availed himself of the cyber genius on his team when appropriate, but he also knew when the situation called for a booby trap in the floorboards.

New tools and old tools – we need them both.  It’s both-and, not either-or, that serves the team best when it comes to filling the toolbox.

Social media.  Virtual bulletin boards.  Instant video conferencing.  New technologies and tools are coming at us faster than ever before.  It’s a cool, techy project world where connecting and learning about each other has never been easier.  

But the tools are the means to an end.  The new stuff is great and we all need to continue developing fluencies in new tools or risk obsolescence. Bond reminds us that adding the new tools, however, often means getting a bigger box, not simply tossing out the old tools.  

Obviously, as teams become more and more distributed across time and space, we need to avail ourselves of technology to bridge the gaps in our virtual worlds. But if a pack of sticky notes and a white board is the best tool for the job at hand and it makes sense at the time, don’t hesitate to use it.

Basics #2  Know Thy Sponsor and Their Definition of Success

Although Bond may not have felt a lot of emotional support from his sponsor at times, he never lost sight of her working definition of success. 

In the throes of scope creep or in the thick of organizational change, stakeholder politicking can make it easy to drift from the original project intent or start managing to a different definition of success.

When the project vision gets out of focus or you lose sight of the project objective, go back to whose name is in the sponsor box and ask the simple questions – again – to confirm objective and definition of success.

Basics #3  Practice, practice, practice

Bond’s experience, not his performance on physical, psychological, and intelligence tests, was the best indicator of his suitability for field work.

You can know the ins and outs of every tool and pass every project management test in the world and still not be effective in the field.  Heck, you can create the tools and write the tests, but nothing will yield project success like the experience gained by using the tools and concepts from the real test – managing real projects.

Academic knowledge, certifications, tests, and other objective skill assessments aren’t all bad.  Certainly it is reasonable that practitioners be able to articulate an understanding of industry best practices and standards.  But developing actual competence is a lot dirtier work.  Classroom knowledge without practice may keep your fingernails clean, but the real value of it only comes with fieldwork. 

OK, so maybe James Bond isn’t the most likely project manager. But when a poison-pen wielding spy is losing big to cyber-savvy, techno terrorists, getting back to the timeless basics was exactly the right call. I suspect it has saved many a project manager from troubled, albeit less life-threatening, projects, as well.

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