Project Execution: The Game of Thrones Edition


When someone tells me there are executing a project or executing someone’s strategy, my mind wanders to Ned Stark’s shocking demise in HBO’s Game of Thrones.

If someone says a project is in execution this usually means the project is safely under the control of a project manager and the teams are getting work done. However, lurking just over the wall are evil forces working to undo that team.

Recently, I spent some time with past clients who were climbing the ladder from what they term basic project management practice to a more standardized approach. They were seeking answers as to what their focus areas should be in the coming year. This is actually quite a difficult question to answer because information is needed, so I ask questions like this:

  • What went right?
  • What went wrong?
  • Has the political landscape changed?
  • Is there a willingness to change or is it just you fighting this battle?

In Game of Thrones, Kings, Queens, and hopefuls all battle for the Throne of Westeros. For fun, let’s call these war games a project. As one faction faces off with another, one prevails as victorious. In project management, we are influencing people to make time for the project, and smacking down issues because there is a problem. Fortunately, no blood is shed in this process, even though it may sometimes feel that way.

As it turns out, most projects do not fail because they don’t have the right protection from their leaders. These leaders are paying for the project after all and they want to see their due returns. Projects usually don’t fail because of poor project management, lack of tools, or poor team dynamics. For sure, this happens, but people usually catch these issues and fix them.

Winter is coming seems to carry many meanings in Game of Thrones, but to you and I, it means the white walkers are building their army of the undead. Wait, aren’t those just the delusional writings of our ancestors?

Just because we aren’t sure something will happen we never pretend it won’t happen. The white walkers in projects are what we call risks. Risks must be tracked, managed, planned for, and budgeted. I cannot tell you how many times I see a risk log in a scope statement that says lack of training will mean the project fails, then the project team devotes 2 days for documentation and a week for training “because people are too busy” to do more.

Here is a trap the white walkers set: They simply hide in the distance, covered in the white of the snow until you realize you are surrounded. In projects, this happens when communications do not occur, or are not sufficient enough. If your project is big enough. people start to worry how it will affect their jobs, if the project will cause people to do more work with less resources, and so on.

(Spoiler alert) In season 5 of Game of Thrones, Jon Snow, who is the Leader of the Watch knows the white walkers are real and he wants to get ahead of this risk. He brings the Wildlings across the wall because he knows there will be a great battle to protect the land.

Sometimes, bringing your biggest detractors into the fray is quite helpful because they can shed light on issues the project team never thought of. Other times, you may find widely communicating the project’s current state and openly addressing concerns can have excellent positive impact.

My suggestion to my clients, and to you is this: Walk up to that throne and take your rightful seat when the project is complete. Until then, double-down on risk, change, and communication management on your projects.

About Bill Raymond

I am an author, public speaker, trainer, and consultant. While working in the product development, portfolio and project management markets, my personal objective is to help companies and individuals strategically plan and deliver business growth. As a result of my commitment to community, I am the proud recipient of the prestigious Microsoft MVP award for the past 12 years. I have also been honored with speaking awards from organizations such as MPUG and NASA.

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