What Marvel’s Avengers can teach you about project teams

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Say hello to the ultimate project team, tasked with saving the earth: Marvel’s Avengers. Indeed, the Avengers adhere to many of the principles espoused by expert project managers.

Take this guidance from Rob Blakemore, programme manager at the Home Office: “Once the team is formed, the project manager should move away from initial ‘command and control’. As soon as possible, the team should be empowered to plan and find the best means of making progress quickly.”

In the Marvel universe, Nick Fury, the leader of shadowy government agency SHIELD, nails this, playing cameo roles in recruiting his superhero charges and then letting them plan their own course.

As we all dig into the movie box sets over the festive season, here are some of the lessons you should be absorbing from Marvel’s ever-popular super-team.  

Project outcomes need to be transparent

In the first Avengers movie, Thor’s brother Loki steals the Tesseract and uses it in league with an alien race called the Chitauri to launch an invasion of earth. Acting on those strong project team principles, Fury assembles the Avengers and combines their different skills to mount a defence against the alien horde.

Interestingly, the project is most severely jeopardised when it transpires that the sponsor – SHIELD – might have its own uses in mind for the Tesseract, causing a brief division in the team. It’s a great example of the value of transparency in project outcomes, especially when the Hulk goes on a rampage and takes out valuable project assets before re-joining the fold.

Good decisions need good information

In Avengers: Age of Ultron, everyone’s there right at the outset, backing each other up and deploying complementary skills to hit the stage gate of disrupting Hydra’s latest experiments on tools powered by the Infinity Stones.

But you know what’s almost as bad as opaque sponsor agendas? A project team member thinking they know best. So when Tony Stark seduces Bruce Banner with his idea for an earth defence system based around his unstoppable death suits and powered by a completely alien artificial intelligence (AI), you just know it’s not going to end well.

The problem is obvious: he has elevated himself to head of the project management office, but doesn’t have all the intelligence. He’s also too trusting of the shiny new software. It’s no surprise that things take a turn for the worse until proper project manager Fury comes back on the scene.

The team needs to pull in the same direction

Avengers: Infinity War is the real study in what can happen when a project team lacks guidance. The mission is still fairly clear – stop Thanos from getting all six Infinity Stones. But the Avengers adopt a kind of bastardised agile methodology here, and it doesn’t go well.

For a start, they split up a little too quickly. There’s nothing wrong with breaking a project down into workflows, but the team has been denuded from other fights and doesn’t seem to twig that everyone needs to agree on keeping the stones out of Thanos’s grasp.

Result? A snap of the fingers and half the world crumbles to dust. And if that isn’t a metaphor for the shoddy application of agile methodologies, we’re not sure what is. The Avengers, then: an object lesson in the value of coordination by a decent project manager.

You can read the full story, Hell hath no fury… (🔒) here and find out which Avenger team member you are.

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Image: Malchev/Shutterstock.com

Richard Young

Posted by Richard Young on 27th Dec 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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