White Papers & Movies: Secrets to Project Success

Wayne Brantley was one of my lecturers earlier this year when I partook in Villanova University’s free online Essentials of Project Management course, a dynamic and unique presenter and commentator on project management. In addition to being a shrewd CPD advocate in PM, his career serves as testimony for the so-called school of hard knocks – that is, practise as well as higher learning are not separate in the development of project management betterment and know-how. According to his bio in the Villanova white paper The Five Secrets to Project Success, Wayne has:

“…over 24 years experience from the Air Force as a project manager for AF technology training and curriculum development programs. Wayne has developed numerous AF and corporate training programs, classroom, multimedia, and Internet-based programs.”

The military background is often a great training base for the project managers of tomorrow, and Wayne’s enthusiasm for project management has clearly shined through. Therefore, I knew that introducing you to some of Wayne’s ways – particularly the above mentioned white paper – would make for a good resource to tie in with our White Papers & Movie clips project here on How to Manage a Camel.

I hope I do the paper justice, as I hope I’ve done previously for the work of Johanna Rothman and Cem Kaner.


“Because PM has been around for so many years, it boggles my mind that we still approach it like it is a new fad or invention. What has occurred over the last 10-20 years is the maturity of the processes in PM lifecycles. Thanks in a large part to the Project Management Institute (PMI®), we have a standardized body of knowledge. This body of knowledge identifies industry-accepted standards for PM.

“Although PMI® has an established body of knowledge, you can argue that there are many ways to skin a cat. I have seen many parallels and similarities to the methodology we see from the PMI®. At the end of the day they are all saying the same thing, albeit in different ways.”



For some reason, I felt like pointing out some obvious things to start off with – there’s a bigger point in here, I swear.

Wayne is an unabashed advocate for the PMI and PM Body of Knowledge ways of managing projects. That much I gathered from the course. But it was important for me (and for all of us) to read the latter paragraph, because too often it can be too easy for project practitioners to fall in love with a method or a school of thought, even to the point of their own project’s detriment.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the #Prince2 field on Twitter some time (or, more recently, even #agile). You’ve got P2 trainers and “I’m now a PM!” practitioners left and right under these field, pushing their courses or selling the method as the “be all, end all” for project management advocacy. Throw in the popularity of these accreditation’s (even in the face of uncertainty as to their true value as a guarantor of PM success) and that wealth of seemingly unapologetic PRINCE2 advocates seem ripe for a “method over adaptable” approach in practise.

In reality, it’s nothing but a curtain to hide behind “we’ve always done it this way”; under such thinking, status remains painfully quo. Pull back the curtain, and you might reveal some inspired leadership that goes places you never dreamed of.


“Let’s discuss what occurs during planning, the process that occurs after initiation. Better yet, let’s start in initiation. What often breeds out of the purview of the project manager is a commitment to do something: develop a product, service, or process. While the high-level planning process may have been done, this probably resulted in a false sense of confidence that there is a plan or approach to execute the project, with just a few ‘minor details’ to be worked out. That’s it. Those few minor details should only need a few hours to plan out. All the ‘heavy lifting’ has been done in initiation. I just love the bright eyes and bushy tails of those naïve individuals (okay, executives) who think this to be true.

“Back to planning: What does occur? A whole bunch! There are 21 processes identified in the PM Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®, or the bible from PMI®). The following are the 21 process identified in the PMBOK®: Develop project management plan Scope planning Scope definition Create WBS Activity definition Activity sequencing Activity resource estimating Activity duration estimating Schedule development Cost estimating Cost budgeting Quality planning HR planning Communications planning Risk management planning Risk identification Qualitative risk analysis Quantitative risk analysis Risk response planning Plan purchases and acquisitions Plan contracting

“See, its simple: Only a couple of hours and you should have all of this done and placed in a nice, handy-dandy project management plan. You may think this seems daunting and overly detailed, but a project manager gets paid to manage the plan – the PM plan. These are all parts of this PM plan. You must know what is happening in each part of the plan. The plan is your compass and your key to project success. So, like a popular sneaker ad says – ‘Just do it!'”


In other words, there’s more to planning than the 46 seconds of monologue from Tommy Lee Jones from the 8:27 mark (a couple of work-inappropriate words here, so it’s not completely work-safe):

And Jones, as Lt. Sam Gerrard, knows this: his imprint for planning is all over “Project: Find Richard Kimble”. He’s developed the project management plan, albeit in less than a minute (ah, Hollywood), based in part on the revamped testimony of the glory-hunting, pork-pie spewing security guard. He’s got the scope, defined it, set up the communications and activities, identified the risks and (as a U.S. marshal with a solid team behind him) employs a capable team that knows their roles and goes into each project with the required preparation and training, complete with the understanding of risk involved. Not to mention the ability to allocate time more properly, i.e. make sure the leg chains still have the required legs still attached, thereby discrediting the faulty testimony of a Scott Templeton wannabe (sorry, a reference from The Wire) and getting the parameters of the project off and running.

Granted, when you talk about the pursuit by Richard Kimble (be it the David Janssen TV version or the Harrison Ford big screen version) of the real killer, you talk about a project that presented a few more risks than many had originally assumed. We’ll come back to Ford’s version of the story in a moment.


“What is a risk? It is an uncertain event that can result in a positive (yes, positive) or negative outcome. It never ceases to amaze me: We know that things will go wrong on our projects, yet too often we manage to the fact that we can handle these issues as they occur. The one member that you can count on being on your team is ‘Murphy’. And we all know Murphy’s Law: What can go wrong will go wrong.

“I have to yet again tie in that poor planning will result in poor risk management. As you read this, ask yourself: ‘Self, how have you seen risk management performed in organizations?’ Often this process is not properly executed. Risk has a set of processes that must be given their due respect…

“…These are processes that must be done continuously throughout the lifecycle of the project; doing them just once will result in limited risk identification. As you build your project plan, do some risk management. Continue updating your risk management plan throughout the development of your project plan and your project. The processes are not difficult, they are just time consuming.”



“Failure to prepare is preparing to fail” – John Wooden

The inability to be prepared for risk cannot be overstressed. It is so with any project: you just can’t rely on ‘being ready’ when the stuff goes down. It WILL go down, so how are you going to react? One of the main takeaways from the Villanova course revolved around this idea: you are really managing a plan that you put in place from the start, and assuring that you can set up and manage the fixes when time begs its management. Also: can you allocate the time effectively? As any project manager will tell you, doing so is a crucial part of handling risk properly. As we’ve said in other posts, if you can’t commit to the time properly, the bugs might bog your project down. Know it beforehand: stakeholders won’t like it if you’ve anticipated poorly in the planning stages.

Naturally, I’ll turn to a chick flick to show you a person who deals with the risks – both quantitative and qualitative – and uses his resources when additional chips fall. With the full intention of actually getting my wife to read one of these blogs, I give you The Bodyguard!

Yep, Frank Farmer still finds the wherewithal to get the job done, even after taking the shot. You’re welcome, dear.


“Think about the evolution it took to become a project manager. You got a job. You got good at the job. You became really good at what you do, and you became the ‘project manager’. Why? I know you’re highly educated through the university of hard knocks. But what has occurred is that you got good at what you love to do, and now you can’t do it any more.

“We as human beings like to do what we are good at. We feel self esteem in this space. We also feel comfortable in this space. People tend to resist change. Why? Because it takes us out of our comfort zone. Project managers are notorious for having outstanding technical skills. But while their technical skills are highly developed, often their interpersonal skills are not. This is often the reason for many a project failure – and you thought it was all because of a bad Gantt chart.

“How do you change this? Start with a project manager development plan. Plan a career path for project managers. Develop them; don’t just appoint them. The army used to have a good system in which you could stay technical or move into administrative/management type roles and receive the same pay and promotions either way. Not everyone wants to be an administrator or manager. Project managers have a lot to learn – just look at the PMI® Body of Knowledge.

“Of all the skills that project managers need to learn, leadership skills may be the most difficult. Why is this? One reason is that the object of their efforts are the most complex systems that we have ever seen: people. When you factor in all their personalities, backgrounds, education, cultures, and gender, difficulty should be expected. Okay, now it’s your turn. What about your organization’s personalities, backgrounds, education, cultures, and gender? These add to a very complicated formula that requires a lot of understanding of human motivation theory.


Yep: promoted to a position of incompetence. Arras People managing director John Thorpe talked about this with me once, and it still rings true today: project managers have sometimes come to be because they got promoted beyond their comfort zone. Sometimes, you have to keep in mind that people with specific skills have developed a working comfort zone, and promotion can mean going outside that zone. As Wayne just wrote for us, if those oh-so-crucial soft skills aren’t inherent in the newly promoted, can the newly promoted really be expected to be a good project manager? Project management can’t just be the next step in the promotional hierarchy – it’s all got to be there, soft skills too.

To illustrate this, let’s consider the aforementioned Richard Kimble, who is managing Project: Find The One-Armed Man! Not to devote too much time to this flick (OK, I wanna devote too much time to this flick), but Kimble’s been thrown into this project, and has more teammates than he realises: Doctors, a fellow prisoner that helps break the chains, even the need to become a full-fledged criminal through acts like breaking and entering. Gathering information like Woodward & Bernstein, Kimble kind of got thrown into the project manager role; promoted out of necessity if you will. (It’s a stretch, I know, but go with me, darn it: I love the film!)

What did we learn about Richard on this project? Well, the guy assesses the risks: he understands the scope of the project, he knows he lacks resources, he possesses both the smarts and guile to make the most of what he’s got, he manages the time, and he’ll do what’s necessary. His promotion came about out of necessity, but Richard Kimble managed it to the point that, even when he had to turn himself in, he kept himself out of the hands of the enemies, i.e. the one-armed man and the kill-ready Chicago PD (remember, they thought he was a cop killer at the point Gerrard beat them to him), proved his innocence to the people with higher jurisdiction (U.S. Marshal’s office), and even got the obsessive Gerrard to take off the cuffs once safely apprehended!!! Delicate stuff, managed to a T.

Bottom line: assuming Richard Kimble returns to something that resembles a regular life, you could easily foresee taking on a guy this resourceful, soft skilled and risk aware to be your project manager. You know, once he’s done filing lawsuits against the City of Chicago, its ineffective law enforcement offices, the District Attorney, and possibly even Devlin-McGregor. Priorities, you know?

Harrison Ford image courtesy Port of San Diego @ flickr and re-used with permission


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