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Trick or Treat: Project Management Lessons from Halloween Movies

Published By Team Clarizen

Halloween is just around the corner, which means that kids are eagerly looking forward to an evening of costumes and candy — and grown-ups are in store for a flurry of Halloween-themed movies that range from terrifying to heartwarming.

However, this year after the final trick-or-treater has made the rounds and you’re ready to plunk down in front of the TV with the leftovers (FYI: just because the candy is bite-sized doesn’t make it healthier), you can be educated as well as entertained. Why? Because many Halloween-themed movies contain lessons that are applicable to the world of project management. Here are some examples:

  1. Halloween

Released back in 1978, the first installment of the Halloween franchise became an instant classic and launched a new genre of “slasher” horror flicks. Indeed, the terrifying exploits of Michael Myers are hard to forget — even if you kind of want to. We won’t go into the gory details, other than to say the scene where the babysitter breathes a sigh of relief because she believes that everything is OK, is one of the scariest movie moments of all time.

The project management lesson: No, the lesson to learn here isn’t to triple-check before assuming that everything is OK. In fact, it’s not even about the movie itself — it’s about the franchise. The first Halloween was remarkable, but none of the seven (yes, seven) sequels it spawned have come even close matching the original in terms of impact.

In a similar way, some projects are highly successful, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the same plan will work again. Taking a cookie-cutter approach to project management is convenient, but can be—and usually is—costly and regrettable. Make sure that business needs dictate project plans, and not the other way around. Moreover, it’s important to note that plans and tools that are flexible and can adapt and allow for changes on-the-fly, will help to you quickly adjust your projects and resources to changing market or business conditions.

  1. The Nightmare Before Christmas

Let’s switch gears to something less frightening with the delightful stop-motion animated flick, The Nightmare Before Christmas. This family-friendly movie follows the misadventures of the pumpkin king of Halloweentown, Jack Skellington. One day Jack accidentally finds himself in Christmastown, and he is so enthralled and overjoyed by the festive scene that he decides to kidnap Santa Claus and basically import all of the Christmas joy he can find into Halloweentown. As you might expect, things go very, very wrong (and are very, very funny).

The project management lesson: Jack Skellington’s intentions are good: he doesn’t want to harm Santa Claus or ruin Christmas. He just wants to experience what Christmas is about, and share it with his fellow Halloweentown citizens. But as mentioned, things don’t go as planned — to put it mildly!

Along the same lines, project methodologies that work well for certain types of projects may not — and often do not — work well in others. For example, the requirements of engineers developing software will be different from those launching a marketing campaign or delivering professional services. If these adjustments aren’t made then, just like good ol’ Jack Skellington, project managers are in store for plenty of misadventure (but without the whimsical soundtrack or feel-good ending). Having a flexible project management solution like Clarizen is critical for robust enterprise environments that must accomodate and connect different methodologies across multiple organizations and teams.

  1. The Birds

Ah yes, how can we forget The Birds: Hitchcock’s 1963 classic that has created legions of Ornithophobia cases, or the fear of birds. From lovebirds to seagulls to sparrows and the list goes on, the movie traces a series of bird attacks on the staggered citizens of Bodega Bay. Even more harrowing — believe it or not — than the attacks themselves, is how the movie ends. We don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t yet been traumatized seen the movie, but we can say this: it’s not the ending that you expect.

The project management lesson: Ground zero for the terror depicted in The Birds is two (obviously misnamed) lovebirds. Once they’re purchased from the pet store, a series of extremely bad things start to happen.

In project management, it’s often the case that seemingly small problems, errors or oversights — if left unchecked— snowball into big problems, and in some cases, major catastrophes. The lessons here isn’t to treat every concern as mission critical. Rather, it’s to make sure that project managers and team members have the clear 360-degree visibility they need (and not everyone needs the same visibility) to spot real or potential problems while they’re relatively small — and therefore solvable.

  1. Psycho

Even people who haven’t seen Psycho have likely heard the eerie soundtrack (for those who want a trip down terrifying lane, here’s a live orchestral rendition of the Psycho Suite). As for the movie itself, it has all the ingredients of a Hitchcock classic: a woman on the run from the law, a ramshackle motel in the middle of nowhere, an overly polite and high-strung proprietor with an interest in taxidermy…what could go wrong? Well, in a word: everything. Suffice to say that the scariest thing about Psycho is the same thing that makes other Hitchcock films so irksome: they aren’t all that far-fetched or beyond the realm of possibility.

The project management lesson: Instead of looking at the film’s plot for insights, it’s more instructive to take a step back and look at what Hitchcock himself learned and demonstrated while making the film — because all of them apply to project management. This wisdom includes:

  • Exploit all available knowledge capital: before the film was shipped to theaters, Hitchcock’s wife Alma — a former editor — viewed it and told her husband that the character played by star Janet Leigh did something that deceased people don’t do: she gulped! Alfred acknowledged the error, re-shot the scene, and might have saved the film from being remembered for all of the wrong reasons.
  • Enable visibility to improve performance and create engagement: Hitchcock relied on hundreds of storyboards, which not only helped actors and others understand where they were in the film, but just as importantly, helped them get a sense of how their contribution fit into the bigger picture (no pun intended!).
  • Carefully manage stakeholder expectations: Hitchcock strongly felt that people who arrived late to Psycho would not get the full experience, and they would also diminish the experience of their fellow moviegoers (it’s hard to be entranced in terror when someone is saying “excuse me…pardon me…excuse me…” every few minutes). To that end, Hitchcock demanded that theater owners impose a no late admission policy, and he even created a sign with the following commandment: “We won’t allow you to cheat yourself. You must see PSYCHO from the very beginning. Therefore, do not expect to be admitted into the theatre after the start of each performance of the picture. We say no one — and we mean no one — not even the manager’s brother, the President of the United States, or the Queen of England.”

We’re not suggesting that managing expectations has to be this dramatic (especially that part about the Queen!), but it does need to be part of the overall plan and process.

  1. Beetlejuice

Beetlejuice begins on a somber and strange note, which might make you think you’ve stumbled across yet another Hitchcock film, or maybe even something by the Coen Brother’s: a couple passes away, and is whisked away to a kind of administrative hub in the afterlife. That’s where they’re informed that their job is to return to their house in the country and haunt it. Yes, it all sounds miserable, but be assured: this is hands-down one of the funniest movies of all time; especially since trying to thwart the recently deceased couple’s afterlife plans is none other than Beetlejuice, a miscreant ghoul who advertises himself as a “freelance bio-exorcist ghost.”

The project management lesson: When the aforementioned couple tries to figure out how to deal with life in the afterlife, they’re repeatedly told to “read the manual.” Like a lot of people — living or otherwise — they don’t follow this advice, and they run into one (hilarious) problem after another. It’s only after they start reading the manual and heeding its instructions that things start to turn around, and the wicked Beetlejuice switches from offense to defense.

In the project management world, “reading the manual” is synonymous with “working the plan.” However, if the plan isn’t developed properly — i.e. if the right people aren’t consulted and contribute — and if the plan isn’t constantly updated to reflect what’s really going on, then working the plan isn’t possible. The plan has to be robust, reliable, updated in real-time and available in the format that people are inclined to use every day, or else it’s a liability instead of an asset.

  1. Get Out

We’ll wrap up with something more contemporary: Get Out, which was released in 2017 and has so far earned an incredible 99% approval rating on the movie review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. Without giving too much away (or causing anyone to freak out and hide under their desk), Get Out is the advice that everyone wants protagonist Chris to heed, because his girlfriend’s family has a chilling secret. How scary is it? Well, think of the scariest thing you can, and then multiply it by 100 — and you’ll be close.

The project management lesson: We’ll get right to it: to manage projects and portfolio, if your enterprise relies on bloated home-grown databases and disparate tools that don’t work and play nicely together, then tell the powers that be to GET OUT of the last century and embrace an advanced cloud-based solution like Clarizen!

Your teams will enjoy class-leading integration, effective internal and external collaboration, secure anytime/anywhere access through the cloud, the ability to utilize multiple methodologies, powerful yet easy-to-use project planning tools, real-time 360-degree visibility, and more. The bottom line? Instead of tricks, project managers and teams finally get treats!




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Written by Team Clarizen