With the return of British secret agent James Bond in the upcoming SPECTRE, moviegoers around the world can once again anticipate an epic adventure set in the high-stakes world of project management. No, Agent 007 is not an example of a good project manager (I hate to say it, he would not make a very good consultant, either); rather, it is the titular agency that has built a legacy of solid project skills.
SPECTRE – the SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion – has chartered projects for over five decades, with the singular vision of destroying western civilization.
Typically, we are only offered a glimpse of SPECTRE’s project team meetings in the movies – status updates are boring in any industry, even when held in that cool top-secret Parisian conference room from Thunderball. However, in 1962’s From Russia with Love, we witness a close-up treatise on how Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his evil organization scope and plan their diabolical work.
Early in the film, chessmaster Tov Kronsteen is summoned to SPECTRE’s headquarters for what is essentially a stakeholder review (or perhaps the most dour kickoff in history). Running the meeting is Persian-cat-stroking maniac Blofeld, who for all intents and purposes is the portfolio manager for all things “World Domination”. Clearly, he is busy supervising other projects – one does not hijack nuclear bombs, as in Thunderball, or build underground Japanese space centers, as in You Only Live Twice, by holding Scrums every two weeks. (Blofeld’s activities seemed to come to an end in 1981, when Bond dropped him off of a helicopter into the stacks at the Battersea power station; it remains to be seen if he indeed lives twice in the upcoming release).
Joining Blofeld and Kronsteen (“Number Five”) is the Project Sponsor, Rosa Klebb (“Number Three”). Her sponsorship skills leave a lot to be desired: While she is literally hands-on in recruiting and gathering resources for the project, her early skepticism of its success, as seen in this meeting, would be difficult for many project managers to overcome. Nevertheless, Kronsteen must have had his KT project management card, because he does a fine job presenting how he has scoped and defined this project:
State the Project
Kronsteen tells his colleagues that the project scope is to “steal from the Russians their new Lektor decoding machine”. Obviously, we would prefer to see some time frame and cost estimates included in this statement, but it is hard to know how far into the stage-gating lifecycle this project actually is. While we would counsel SPECTRE on this point, we certainly understand when our clients prefer to keep certain pieces of information confidential.
Identify Resource Requirements
Many project managers – in fact, many managers – tend to assign responsibility for work before understanding what is required for success. At KT, we encourage PMs to first identify what knowledge and skills are needed to complete the work, before negotiating resources. We also coach project managers to spend the extra effort clarifying the needs; rather than listing “admin duties”, actually detailing “ability to take detailed notes in meetings, distribute concise minutes, maintain version control of documents”, for example. When Klebb first mentions she has found a “suitable girl” for the project, clear thinkers everywhere surely cringe; but as she continues, she articulates what exactly would make one suitable: she has sought someone who is “capable, cooperative, and [whose] loyalty to the State is beyond question.”
Projects typically do not derail because people screw up on what is in the plan; they turn pear-shaped over what is left out of the plan. Using Potential Problem Analysis helps project managers identify – in advance – where the execution risk is in their projects, and plan ahead, both by preventing problems and by having a quick response plan at the ready. As an organization, SPECTRE is no less demanding.
“Kronsteen, you’re sure this plan is foolproof?” Blofeld asks.
“Yes it is,” the evil chess-playing strategist replies, “because I have anticipated every possible variation of counter-move.”
Ultimately, it was one unforeseen slip-up that proved the undoing of the entire plan. SPECTRE’s assassin Red Grant joined 007 for dinner on the Orient Express, but orders red wine with his fish. This naturally tips Bond off as to Grant’s savagery; surely, a solid PPA on work package “5.1.2 – Bond Girl Drugged” would have ensured Grant maintained proper etiquette with his cover.
Project managers often struggle with this tool – it sounds so simple, to extract extra benefit from a project, but identifying the opportunities can be a challenge for many. But not for Kronsteen, and not for SPECTRE!
The key deliverable of this project, as stated, is to steal a top-secret Russian decoding device; objectives included Maximizing collateral damage to world intelligence agencies. Kronsteen certainly completed his POA worksheet to find a potential opportunity: “As an added refinement, I think that SPECTRE would probably have the added chance of a personal revenge for the killing of our operative, Doctor No. Because the man the British will almost certainly use on a mission of this sort would be their agent, James Bond.”
Among the Promoting Actions he took was to select a Russian counter-spy so attractive, even 007 would ignore the obvious trap.
(We advise our clients that “protecting the plan should have priority”, to make sure they reduce risk to an acceptable level before chasing potential opportunities. In this instance, the opportunity to capture Bond ended up leading directly to the scheme’s undoing. Someone should have recognized this; perhaps SPECTRE needs a Communication Matrix?)
Question to the Void
Blofeld closes the meeting by asking a superlative question: “What else?”
We often ask that our clients use their newfound “KT Power” as a force for good, not for evil; that said, when the time comes for worldwide domination, few things can top a well-designed and well-executed project plan. That most sinister of organizations, SPECTRE, routinely defines and plans its projects with textbook precision; thankfully for civilized society, its project implementation skills remain deficient.