The Spooky Side of Project Management

Title: The Spooky Side of Project Management and Happy Halloween logo

Ghostly Situations

You might be wondering what Halloween has to do with project management. You would be surprised to learn they have quite a few similarities and some are comical. Like Halloween, Project Managers (PMs) also encounter ghosts or skeletons from their past projects. The fear of failure or the same mistakes is a monster that destroys a project’s progress because they did not learn from their mistakes or lessons learned if taken. Also, PMs should look for red flags or zombies when managing their risks and be careful about the factors that can lead a project towards failure. Without effective risk management, it is impossible to complete your project on schedule.

Your choice of a boo-tiful costume (e.g., Barbie, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, or Jason’s hockey mask from Friday the 13th movies) is heavily dependent on the location of the Halloween party. Similarly, a PM considers the external environment and other factors and makes decisions accordingly. The primary objective of a PM is to mold yourself according to the situation to ensure maximum client satisfaction by meeting their requirements.

Another lesson that PMs can learn from Halloween is to aim high by having ambitious goals (e.g., improving productivity or sticking to deadlines). Set clear objectives so that all your team members can contribute towards success. Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star. – Clement Stone

Illustration of spooky ghosts.

Don’t Assume It Is Dead

In every horror movie, just when the hero believes they have successfully eliminated the monster, it finds a way to come back to life. The first Halloween movie (1978) had one of the most unexpected comeback scenes. In this movie, Michael Myers appeared to be a run-of-the-mill psychopathic human being. It was only at the very end of the film after Dr. Loomis has shot Michael a few times at direct range and he’s fallen from the second story of a house and managed to get away that you finally realize he’s going to come back. Michael Myers, the antagonist, has appeared in the franchise’s thirteen films in which he chooses not to talk, doesn’t seem to have a rhyme or reason for his killing spree, and seems unstoppable.

While it can be satisfying to resolve a tricky project issue, we need to remain vigilant about the possibility that it could happen again. Recurring issues in projects are so commonly related to one simple mistake – not looking back at the history of the project. Project learning is invaluable, yet businesses often gloss over the details and miss important insights. Also, if an issue had been previously identified as a risk, we now have further quantitative data regarding its impact which we could use to be better prepared in the future.

Illustration of spooky Mike Meyers Friday the 13th mask.

Scary Unknowns

While half the fun of going into a haunted house is the suspense of not knowing what lies around all the creepy corners. There is nothing fun in project management about the unknowns. As a PM I like to always prepare for the worst, the shock, the alarming, and have solutions ready to go. For example, the project scope is expanding well beyond the original agreement. If this happens don’t call Ghostbusters’ hotline but pull out the Project Charter and remind managers what was agreed upon as “in scope” and “out of scope.” If there is continued scary pushback, bring in the project sponsor who has the ultimate authority to bring everyone back to the original intent and business case for the project.Save the blood-curdling scream or witch hunt for Halloween and not your project meetings. Rarely does a day go by where everything will go according to plan, and it is how you react to those situations that will make or break the rest of the project. Don’t let what’s hiding around the corner distract you, you’ve got this!

Spooky haunted house.

Spooky Summary

October 2023 includes a rare Friday the 13th so please, don’t be superstitious! To get the great pumpkin on your side, plan your Halloween activities like a PM. For example, planning and putting up spooky Halloween decorations, hosting a themed costume party, or organizing a haunted house. Your ghoulish thoughts (e.g., always check your candy or be aware of pranks) in the comment section below are welcomed. Finally, have a Spook-tacular Halloween!

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Ronald Smith has over four decades of experience as Senior PM/Program Manager. He retired from IBM having written four books and over four dozen articles (for example, PMI’s PM Network magazine and MPUG) on project management, and the systems development life cycle (SDLC). He’s been a member of PMI since 1998 and evaluates articles submitted to PMI’s Knowledge Shelf Library for potential publication. From 2011 - 2017, Ronald had been an Adjunct Professor for a Master of Science in Technology and taught PM courses at the University of Houston’s College of Technology. Teaching from his own book, Project Management Tools and Techniques – A Practical Guide, Ronald offers a perspective on project management that reflects his many years of experience. Lastly in the Houston area, he has started up two Toastmasters clubs and does voluntary work at various food banks.
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