Now, normally when asked, I wouldn’t go about suggesting you read up on your Superheroes to learn about Project Management. Superheroes depend on a special ability not possessed by anyone else to achieve their endgames. Project Managers depend on their skills and experience (which tend to overlap with others), and follow frameworks specified by others.
Project Managers are not superheroes, even if at times it feels like the good ones are! That being said, I think there are aspects that we can identify within Superheroes that might inform how we tackle our projects.
When I was at school all the boys wanted to be Superman. While I never felt the same (see later), I could see the attraction. Invulnerable, superhuman strength, the ability to fly – they’re all pretty cool attributes. And he has no weaknesses. Well, except for one…
You guessed it, Kryptonite. Basically, Superman can divert Asteroids on collision course to Earth, take a bullet in the chest without blinking, and change into his Superman gear in seconds in a telephone box (If you don’t know what one of those are, ask your parents.) But expose him to a small chunk of rock from his own planet and he suddenly becomes useless.
I think Kryptonite is a perfect example of one of those risks where you can’t do much to reduce its impact. If some Kryptonite is used against him, Superman becomes jelly. End of. Superman accepts this risk and carries on. Acceptance is one of those ways of dealing with very unlikely risks which could damage us as either people or organisations. He doesn’t allow the chance of it appearing to prevent him from being the good guy.
Now, far be it from me to suggest that there is potentially something we could do to mitigate these impacts. How about carrying a mobile phone and checking in regularly with someone? I guess that doesn’t sound very super-heroic, but in our projects we need to be seen to be pro-active, not heroic.
While everyone else wanted to be Superman, I wanted to be Batman. I trust you can see the attraction – I mean – what’s not to like? A millionaire’s lifestyle and some really cool tools.
And that is what I want to highlight for you about Batman. No, not the millionaire’s lifestyle – you won’t get that from being a project manager (but we can dream!). However, using the right tool is essential. Whether it is a software scheduling tool, or the right leadership approach at the right time, as Project Managers we need to judge the right tool for the job, just like Batman.
Teaching Project Management, I stress that while the Sponsor is accountable for the project, the responsibility is then delegated to the Project Manager who then can do what is needed to deliver the project. Someone replied with a quip – like Spiderman; “With great power comes great responsibility”.
I rather liked that – as Project Managers, we have to do just that. We are given the power to deliver the project. And thereby have the responsibility to spend other people’s money wisely.
Hong Kong Phooey
If your reaction is “Who?” or “You’ve made that up”, I can assure you I have not. But I can also guess that you were not a child of the 70s. “Penry” is a janitor in a police station until he hears of a crime needing to be solved, when he turns into Hong Kong Phooey.
The gag in the piece is that Hong Kong Phooey is inept. Even when trying to turn into his alter-ego, he gets stuck in a filing cabinet. His cat, Spot, is his trusty sidekick, who often gets him out of bother. Hong Kong Phooey’s secret power is his knowledge of Kung Fu – which he learns from “The Hong Kong book of Kung Fu” – a correspondence-course handbook.
Hong Kong Phooey does not let his failures stop him trying, he keeps learning – and all the while partners with people who can help him resolve issues. And all of us can learn from that!
“Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!”. Dr Bruce Banner is a smart intelligent man. A scientist, he can think things through, and knows that he must keep calm – while he can.
Have you ever had the red mist of anger descend? It can stop the smartest of us from thinking rationally. We might not turn into a green monster, but logic can desert us at that moment.
In projects we are faced with numerous challenges. Usually, the reaction to that challenge needs to be measured and undertaken with rational thought. In short, we need to realise that the Hulk is not a solution to problems.
So there you have it – 5 things project managers can learn from the Superheroes. Now it’s your turn. Who is your favourite superhero and what can we learn from them?
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