Lessons on Project and Team Management taught by Star Wars

Looking through our management lens, Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi had a well-defined goal and constraints. Our two heroes needed to find Princess Leia, were on a fixed budget, and the project was on a short fuse. Brian Duperrouzel brings Star Wars to Perspectives this week. (04:00)

Looking through our management lens, Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi had a well-defined goal and constraints. Our two heroes needed to find Princess Leia, were on a fixed budget, and the project was on a short fuse. Instead of bringing in a trusted partner, or a pricey but often underwhelming big name consultancy, Luke had to pawn his speeder, in order to hire a few cut rate contractors in Han Solo and Chewbacca. You know budget is tight when you can’t even afford the bottom left quadrant on Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Smugglers. And while we eventually grew to love and admire Han and Chewy, it was clear early there were cultural issues which could have resulted in project failure. If it wasn’t for a well powered Death Star tractor beam, who is to say Han Solo wouldn’t have ended up a statistic on some HR person’s attrition report.


Does this guy look “bought in”?

Let’s break down some of the dynamics at play on both the Rebel Alliance and Empire teams:

Self-Organization and the Light Side

In good self-organized fashion, Ben Kenobi displayed servant leadership by selflessly taking the “Disable Tractor Beam” story off the back log.   The rest of the team partnered on the epic, “Find and Rescue the Princess” and with some creative use of ‘fake it till you make it’ completed their stories well before the sprint ended. Once found, Princess Leia, who was accustomed to working in a more waterfall methodology with a comprehensive top down planning process, had some agile adjustments issues.   Clearly frustrated by her team’s lack of a plan for breaking out of the prison block, Leia had to pull a page from her executive playbook and throw more resources at Han Solo in order to get him to agree to changes in scope.   A more progressive manager may have explored resource starving the team, to see if it resulted in better teamwork and less organizational kingdom building, but Leia had unused funds, and the bean counters back on Alderaan would have likely reallocated those funds when the fiscal year ended.   Examining Luke’s performance, despite his penchant to whine early on, he was arguably the most manageable and collaborative of all the Rebel Alliance team members. Luke put his personal passion project aside (remember those power converters he wanted to pick up at Toshi station?), and embraced accountability in the new project that he was begrudgingly assigned to. The rebel team was ultimately able to succeed with their tight budgets and their self-organization put their people in positions to be creative and add maximum value.


This is what my project close out meetings look like!

Command and Control Management and the Dark Side

Breaking down the Empire’s team, Darth Vader’s command and control management style delivered mixed results at best. The Death Star was clearly an engineering marvel and its planet destruction capabilities were certainly a disruptive technology in the marketplace (Did they rip off Pied Piper’s IP?). While Vader’s quick and authoritative decision making was expedient and drove accountability, one is left to wonder if the culture of the Empire’s workplace suppressed high performing players from collaborating and reaching their full potential.

Darth Vader’s stand up meetings were a bit rough.

The fact that the Death Star was documented well enough for the Rebels to discover a defect root cause is a good indicator the project suffered from resource bloat and estimates were likely sandbagged. Engineers may have been reluctant to report the technical debt of the reactor being a single point of failure through the exhaust port, and cultures who do not reward the discussion of bad news will ultimately be forced to react to it. The other obvious cultural issue on the Empire side was lack of gender and ethnic diversity amongst the leadership ranks. I don’t recall seeing a single woman or Mandalorian at any of the leadership meetings on the Death Star. This leadership team suffered from insular thinking and it’s not surprising why they were out performed by the less resourced, self-organized and more diverse rebel team.

Leadership meeting or old boy network?

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