The Art of War for Project Managers – The Five Measures
As project managers, we have a number of responsibilities. One of these is to develop an understanding of what is happening with our projects which allows us to work with them at a 10,000 ft. view and at a very detailed level.
It is because of this unique focus that we are the ones who are called upon to manage the chaos. When the people and events around us move into dangerous waters, we are the ones who are in a position to take the elements of our project plans… our risk planning, schedules, budgets, etc… and restore order and calm to the situation. MacGyver has a paperclip, some gum and a turkey baster, we’ve got a risk register and a Gantt chart.
While Sun Tzu intended the Art of War to be a treatise on how to manage military affairs, the lessons in his text can be applied successfully to any area of life, especially project management.
The first chapter of the Art of War introduces what are often referred to as the Five Measures. According to Sun Tzu, there are five things that must be understood in order to know what is truly going on around you. The Five Measures are:
These five concepts can be easily fit into the project environment. Climate and Ground are perhaps the easiest to start with. Think about what it is like when you walk into a new company, or work environment. As we naturally move into an information gathering mindset, one of the first things we look at are the organizational structure of the environment in which we are working, and the political structure of that organization. There will most likely be an organization chart you can obtain access to. This defines rank within the environment. It is the ground on which things have been placed. There is also the political environment to consider. Who is climbing up the corporate ladder? Who has the Senior VP’s ear? Who has fallen out of favor with the head of the department? This can often tell you more of what you need to know to get things done than the actual org. chart. The political situation is the climate that we are dealing with. This, matched with what we know about the organizational structure, or ground, will help us develop an understanding of how we might begin to maneuver within our project environment so that we can successfully get our project through to delivery.
Method and Leadership have a similar relationship. Method refers to the procedures and systems we have to be familiar with in order to get things done. If you have ever been in the unfortunate position of having to call a new team member and tell them they could not start work for a few additional days while you resubmitted their new hire paperwork the proper way, you know how important it can be to have this down. Finally, the Tao, which translates to English as “the way”, refers to a less easily defined aspect of the environment. When we refer to individuals, we often say they have a certain style. All well-known leaders and celebrities have a “way” about them. It encompasses how they lead, what motivates them, the culture they develop, and a number of other things. Donald Trump, has a very identifiable way about him. This spreads to the workers he leads. Mahatma Gandhi had a “way” about him as did the actor Cary Grant. This is also not based solely on individual leaders. Cultural differences can play a large part in this. When I teach the Ultimate PMP course in Dubai, I try to make adjustments to the environment I create in the classroom in order to accommodate the “way” of the country I am in and the culture of the people in the class. Leadership refers to the person leading the team (or company, or group, or army, etc.). What type of leader is the person in charge? How do they manage their troops? How do their troops respond to this leader? If you have to develop a team in a matrix environment, you will want to know something about how your team members are managed by the person they report to. It will help you understand how to lead them – either in step with their own manager, or by providing an alternative leadership style.
When we examine all of these elements together, we are able to develop a deeper understanding of our situation. It will help us as we work out strategies for getting our work done. It will impact who we ask for resources and how we will request them. If your sponsor is someone climbing their way up the company ladder, who has the support of his/her superiors and can apply some pressure when needed, you would most likely approach your project differently than you would if you were managing a project for someone who had fallen out of favor and was hoping to use the project to re-establish their importance to the organization.
As PMs, we spend more time and effort in planning than any other part of the project. Similarly, the Art of War suggests that the first step in being successful in any negotiation, war or otherwise, is making sure you have a solid understanding of where you are and what is going on around you.