Five project management lessons from Game of Thrones

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After a decade on our screens, HBO’s TV powerhouse Game of Thrones (GoT) has come to an end. With 17.4m people watching the first episode of the final season in the UK, it’s become part of the zeitgeist. So we’d be remiss if we didn’t try to glean some project management lessons from the show, so you can learn while you enjoy all the dragons, ice zombies and people getting stabbed.

We’ve taken a look at the motivations of key characters to determine what project management lessons they can offer you.

While we’ll avoid spoilers for the current season, we can’t promise there won’t be some for older ones. So if you’ve got a lot to catch up on, you might want to do that first.

Secure the right resources for your project

Project management lead: Daenerys Targaryen

Project objective: win back the Iron Throne

Key deliverables:

  • barbecued opponents
  • liberated slaves
  • dragons

Throughout the course of the show, Daenerys has been adept at increasing her resources as she scales up. As her project grows, so does her team, from a small handful at the start of the show to a full army (and a dragon or two) in the final season.

Leadership is critical to most projects – especially when limited resources demand you find alliances and create new options. But avoid bribery. People join Daenerys’s project team because she earns their trust and serves their purposes as well as her own. Above all, she’s charismatic, she’s honest and she has clear values that guide her decision-making.

Make sure you keep a do to list

Project management lead: Arya Stark

Project objective: revenge

Key deliverables:

  • neck wounds
  • unpleasant pies
  • assassin skills

Arya knows that without a sound record of what’s happening, any project is susceptible to drift. Her documentation is in the form of her nightly recital of those she plans to kill – talk about project focus. She is also very adaptable and never shies away from trying and mastering new skills such as swordfighting or wearing somebody else’s face.

Single-mindedness in pursuit of your project goals is an admirable quality. But it must be tempered with a willingness to adapt as circumstances change. Project managers should be on a life-long, open-minded journey to acquire new skills.

Cost overruns are a huge red flag

Project management lead: Cersei Lannister

Project objective: keeping power

Key deliverables:

  • the shocking deaths of protagonists
  • starving commoners
  • endless civil war

It’s frustrating when you’re committed to project success but the resource demands start to mount up. As a project manager, Cersei is too narrowly focused – and, ironically given the legacy of House Lannister – too short-sighted to adapt and contextualise her tactics. Result? Betrayal and tragedy. The stakes are lower for most projects – but the obsessive project manager could well learn from her fate.

Address project failings head on

Project management lead: Jon Snow

Project objective: save humanity

Key deliverables:

  • unlikely alliances
  • aggrieved northerners
  • stoic concern

Jon is a true man of the North; blunt and decisive. These are excellent qualities when a project starts to falter. When part of the Night’s Watch turns against their leader, Jon deals with the mutiny directly: only unity can ensure the Wall is properly defended. Transparency and loyalty are rare in GoT – but key to good project management.

Spend time on planning

Project management lead: The Night King

Project objective: endless darkness

Key deliverables:

  • the death of all humanity
  • a growing undead army
  • a smashed magical wall

The Night King has spent the best part of a thousand years planning his project – humanity’s end – before actually launching it. Sometimes it’s worth taking more time on planning to make sure that you can deal with any issues that might come your way – three dragons, for example. Through careful planning and resourcing, The Night King ends up with a huge undead army, numerous white walker lieutenants, and zombie monsters, including an ice dragon. It might not be the most engaging element of project management but trust The Night King – it pays to plan.

Richard Young

Posted by Richard Young on 24th May 2019

About the Author

Richard Young is the consulting editor of Project
Project is the official journal of the Association for Project Management (APM).

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