12 Project Management Lessons from James Bond

project management lessons
Project Management Lessons from James Bond

Last November when the latest James Bond motion picture, Skyfall was released, I found myself in a conversation with my co-workers about the new movie.  The conversation evolved to comparisons of the new movie to previous Bond flicks.  It occurred to me that, although I love movies and watch a lot of them, I had never seen a single James Bond movie.  It wasn’t on purpose.  I just never got around to seeing any of them.

So I started a quest to watch every James Bond movie in order.  Starting with 1962’s Dr. No starring Sean Connery I viewed all twenty-four 007 flicks ending with 2012’s Skyfall starring Daniel Craig this past weekend.

As I enjoyed these movies, it occurred to me that there are many project management lessons we can learn from 007.

The project management lessons

  1. Lack of Appendages.  Being the man-whore that James Bond is, particularly in the promiscuous 60s and 70s when he was played by Sean Connery and Roger Moore, he had no need and no time for a wife and family.  This fits in perfectly with the demands of a project manager who puts in long hours that extend well into the evenings and weekends.
  2. Training. In a scene in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974 – Roger Moore), Bond is in a hotel room when the beautiful Bond girl Mary Goodnight appears out of his hotel room closet.  (A dime for every time that has happened to me.) Bond immediately pulls a gun on her and, as he realizes her identity, explains “I was trained to expect the unexpected”.
    Project managers have to be prepared for unexpected changes as well.  It’s probably best not to be armed and ready, but then again, project managers don’t have a license to kill.
  3. Tools. Every project manager needs to have the proper tools to plan, manage and close a project appropriately.  Although we can’t shoot oil slicks from behind a flip-out license plate, fly in a jetpack or shoot people with a trick cigarette dart, we’re not allowed to drive, fly or smoke in the workplace anyway.
    Lacking an advanced lab technician like Q, we need to come up with our own toolkit to defend ourselves against the evil scope creeps who plot to rule the world by sabotaging our projects and infiltrating our business users with diabolical schemes that add unplanned functionality.  I’d love to see the change control strategy that Q would come up with to combat these project perpetrators.
  4. Don’t get too personal.  In Licence to Kill (1989 – Timothy Dalton), Bond’s friend Felix is fed to sharks by drug lord Franz Sanchez, resulting in Felix losing a leg.  Bond is denied permission to pursue Sanchez and resigns from the British Secret Service.  He follows this personal vendetta and eventually catches his man.  In the process, he interrupts two investigations being run by other organizations working undercover.
    In the movie, his end justified the means.  All the bad guys were either caught or killed in interesting ways and everything worked out well.
    We all know that it just doesn’t work that way in real life.  A leader has to be as much of a team player as anyone else on the team. Allowing your personal views and biases to cloud your judgment results in bad decisions that can negatively affect the entire project.
  5. You get more accomplished working together.  In Tomorrow Never Dies (1997 – Pierce Brosnan), Bond finds himself working on the same case as Chinese spy Wai Lin (played by Michelle Yeoh).  After being handcuffed together by evil media mogul Elliot Carver, they escape.  While showering together (how appropriate for Bond), she picks the lock to separate them and tells him that she prefers to work alone.
    He persistently follows her.  They end up working together and (spoiler alert) board Carver’s ship to fight his nasty team, killing them all in the end. As good as Bond is, he knew they needed each other to get the job done right.
    A project manager needs to be able to work with every team member and help them all work together to reach their goals as a team.
  6. Pass it on. Albert (Cubbie) Broccoli produced the first Bond film, Dr. No in 1962 going on to produce the next fifteen.  He produced his last Bond movie, Licence to Kill in 1989.  He began involving his daughter Barbara Broccoli in the production of Bond movies when she was seventeen, working in the publicity department for The Spy Who Loved Me (1977 – Roger Moore).  She worked her way up to associate producer and, ultimately producer beginning with Goldeneye (1995 – Pierce Brosnan).
    Albert Broccoli knew he wouldn’t live forever, but that was no reason the Bond legacy couldn’t.  (After all, Ian Fleming, the original author of the Bond book series died in 1964 after only seeing two of his books made into movies.)  Broccoli began training others to succeed him to ensure a smooth transition and succession plan.
    Project managers should keep their eyes open for willing mentors to prepare them for future careers in project management.
  7. Prioritization skills. In The World Is Not Enough (1999 – Pierce Brosnan), Bond impersonates bad guy Davidov and ends up meeting fellow bad guy Renard in an underground silo.  Soon after Bond finds their nuclear bomb, the lovely nuclear physicist Christmas Jones, played by Denise Richards, blows his cover.  All the bad guys start shooting.  Before Bond runs for cover, he grabs Jones and saves her too.  The bad guys get away, killing everyone in the silo except Bond and Jones.  Saving Jones turns out to be quite beneficial to Bond by the movie’s end.
    Project managers need to ensure their decisions are based on well-established priorities based on what is best for the project.  Well prioritized decisions early on will result in beneficial outcomes at the end of the project.
  8. Make yourself useful.  In Die Another Day (2002 – Pierce Brosnan), M approaches Bond after his release from fourteen months of North Korean captivity.  Because they believe he may have leaked confidential information while he was tortured, she tells him that he’s no longer useful to MI6.  Bond escapes from the secured hospital room, hunts down the bad guys and obtains valuable information on them. M ends up mending fences with 007 and assigns him to work undercover in Iceland.  Even when his superior thought he was no longer valuable, he knew he was.  He maintained his self-confidence and proved it to them.
    The role of the project manager is a valuable one.  It’s up to you to make sure you are providing value in that role on a daily basis.
  9. Trust but verify. In Casino Royale (2006 – Daniel Craig) and Quantum of Solace (2008 – Daniel Craig) – the only two serialized Bond movies to date – trust becomes an issue for Bond.  In Casino Royale, he befriends René Mathis, a local MI6 contact, who ends up being a double agent with villain Le Chiffre.  Bond falls in love with Vesper Lynd, who also betrays him in the end because she was being blackmailed.
    In Quantum of Solace, M has Bond arrested because she does not trust him to follow orders.  He escapes, only to sneak back to speak to M in order to vouch for a murdered agent’s bravery.  In the end, her trust in Bond returns.  Additionally, in Quantum, Bond reconciles with Mathis (from Casino Royale) and they once again trust each other.
    To be a successful project manager, a great deal of trust must be granted to the project team.  That doesn’t mean that the project manager should not verify critical status updates provided by the team.  Mistakes get made and are sometimes covered up.  The project manager is responsible and needs to substantiate things from time to time.
  10. You may have to step outside your job description to get the job done. When Quantum of Solace (2008 – Daniel Craig) was being shot, the writer’s strike was in full force.  Daniel Craig and director Marc Forster actually wrote parts of the script, although they received no screenwriting credit in the film.
    The project manager’s job is to remove obstacles to allow the team to get their jobs done and enable successful completion of the project.  A good project manager doesn’t confine herself to rigid job descriptions and does whatever it takes to make the project successful.
  11. Skill trumps tools. In Skyfall (2012 – Daniel Craig) Bond takes M to his childhood home.  He is attacked by Raoul Silva’s henchmen in two separate waves.  Although the two attacking armies heavily outweigh Bond in weaponry and ammunition – including incendiary grenades and a machine gun mounted on a helicopter, Bond, M and the Skyfall groundskeeper create traps and figure out a way to outsmart Silva and his men with skill and capabilities.
    Project managers often have a tendency to get caught up using their project management tools and processes, forgetting to stop and think about how to handle each situation.  Although tools are important, knowledge, intelligence and skill will always outperform the most advanced tools and techniques.  Don’t forget to think.
  12. Hang on for the ride.  In the climax scene of A View to a Kill (1985 – Roger Moore), James Bond grabs on to the hanging tether of Max Zorin’s dirigible in which he had just kidnapped the lovely Stacy Sutton (played by the equally lovely Tanya Roberts).  Max tries to force Bond’s fall in many ways, but 007 hangs on tight.  After Zorin tries to run him into the Golden Gate Bridge, Bond ties the tether to the bridge and is able to rescue the girl.
    You may not get the girl at the end of the project, but you do get rewarded for sticking with it to the end.

See my related post: Do You Deliver a Transparent Status Report?

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms. 

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