Michael Wood | 15 November 2013
In this blog I want to explore the film trilogy “The Lord of the Rings” and what it has to say about project and programme management. As with my previous film blog, the Italian job, I should start by shouting SPOILER ALERT! I may be giving away key plot points in my discussions.
First of all, as anyone who knows me could tell you, the films themselves are a bit of a sore subject for me. I have read the books at least once a year since I was knee high to a Uruk Hai (if you know your Tolkein that's hilarious by the way), and the hatchet job Peter Jackson does on the plot and the motivations of the key characters usually causes people to stand well back if the subject comes up.
Anyway, breathe Michael… I am not going to talk about this aspect of the films. Also, I am really referring to the books themselves, rather than the films, so apologies if you see any inconsistencies. If you do, I recommend the books, they are some of the best in the English language in my humble opinion.
ANYWAY, glossing over the first part of the story, let's jump straight to the project element of the film, getting the One Ring to Mount Doom to destroy Sauron. Firstly, there is the council of Elrond at Rivendell. This is basically a scoping meeting, where the requirements are identified for the project and the planning is done. Each of the different "free peoples" of middle earth are represented; men, elves, dwarfs and hobbits. This means that the meeting meets the needs of all the stakeholders. It is very common at this early stage for key groups to be absent, such as your customer, and this can lead to some important misconceptions in the planning phase. After all, how could the fellowship plan how to get to Mount Doom if they haven't even agreed that this is where they are going? So, an important lesson here that has always been understood, and yet is often forgotten; involve all stakeholders in the scoping and planning process.
Next, as a general part of the story, we have risk management. If Sauron, basically the main baddie of the story, gets wind that the group are going to destroy the ring, they are sunk, therefore the impact of the risk is huge. However, as Gandalf says, "that we might destroy the ring instead of using it has not even entered his darkest nightmares", and so the probability is low. Nonetheless, secrecy is maintained wherever possible about the ring to try and mitigate this risk, the chance of discovery never goes however, and so this can only be a risk reduction exercise, not avoidance.
Finally, an observation on leadership. Gandalf is the leader of the fellowship, the project team if you will. The rest of the group defer to him in all decisions, to use a Thomas Kilcourse-style analysis, Gandalf has knowledge power (he is an experienced expert) and referent power (he is regarded as trustworthy and has not lead anyway astray before) and formal power (he is put in charge of the group). When he falls in the mines of Moria however, Aragorn, the soon to be king of Gondor, takes over. This demonstrates a valuable lesson in leadership; good leaders know that team members need to be empowered and have the confidence to make their own decisions. It is often said that a good manager can leave their office for a week and it will run fine. Although not as extreme as falling down a dark chasm with a demon is a more extreme version of a week's holiday, the same principle applies. Beware the empire builders and knowledge hoarders, they are only helping themselves, not the organisation.
So, The Lord of the Rings; if you forget the books, they are very good films, just don't get me started on the differences…
And as for the Hobbit…