Randstad Canada HR Blog

5 Project Management Lessons From History

Posted by James Rubec on Wed, Apr 16, 2014 @ 11:37 AM

Project managers help teams deliver products, tools and programs on time and on budget. Aspiring PMs can pull their leadership lessons from history, mentors or training. Some of the most important project managers of all time were military leaders - directing large teams to complete dangerous tasks. Two such leaders were T.E. Lawrence  and Joan of Arc.

5 Project Management Lessons From History

History Leadership lessons

T. E. Lawrence - Unpredictability can be a powerful tool

Lesson 1: Sometimes it is best to give teams and managers leeway to both make mistakes and produce unpredictable results.

Thomas Edward Lawrence also known as Lawrence of Arabia was made infamous for his role in uniting the Bedouins tribes during World War I, to mobilize them to fight the Ottoman Empire was a man who was given enough freedom in his role as a field commander to make the impossible, possible.

Having travelled throughout much of the middle east as an academic and a field archeologist, he was specially suited through language and cultural knowledge to liaise between the English military and various parties in the region. 

His commanders were busy in their part of the war and gave him enough room to operate in a unique style - taking their garb and adopting the cultural traditions of the Bedouins tribes he rallied them together helping the growing Arab revolt take hold. In doing so he rallied them against an English enemy winning some of the most stunning victories in battles of the last century.

Lesson 2: Project managers need to manage peoples' talents, skills, ambitions and expectations as well as a projects' budgets and timelines. 

Joan of Arc - Good morale is a strategy unto itself

Joan of Arc

Lesson 3: Just because someone’s idea sounds insane to you one day, doesn’t mean they are wrong and that they won’t make it happen. 

When an illiterate farm girl who claimed to hear the voice of God telling her to lead an army against the English in 1429 the King of France at the time, Charles VII, did what any good leader who was behind the eight ball on a project might do, he said (I'm paraphrasing here) “Go for it Joan, that sounds crazy enough to work.”

Joan’s conviction which started years earlier when she said she received visions from God and a message to help drive the English from France led her to passionately make her point up the chain of command.

Lesson 4: Find people who believe in your plan and refine your pitch until it finds its audience, or you become more effective at persuading the people who need to be persuaded. Joan found people to listen to her idea, she made a case for it passionately and when it came down to execution she got it done.

She was laughed at along the way until the King of France agreed that at least she believed what she was saying, and with hope in little else, he invested in arming her with horse and armor and let her march on Orleans.

She became a moral leader to the army and helped make the war one of religion instead of power and money. After being shot in the neck and shoulder by an arrow, Joan stayed on the field of battle carrying a battle standard and was attributed much of the credit for the ending of a months’ long siege. and taking Orleans. 

After defeating the English in many battles, she fought a group of French dissidents who had broken from the Catholic Church. She'd demanded their conversion back to Catholicism and following a subsequent battle she was captured by a fellow Frenchman, sold to the English, put on trial on nonsense charges and then executed by being burned at the stake. Later she was found to be innocent.

Lesson 5: One big lesson from Joan’s story is one of caution. Know when to stop when you’ve won. Don’t over extended yourself and get burned at the stake for your ideals; stay flexible and role with the punches.