They say that there are no new stories. Christopher Booker suggests that every story ever told is a variation of seven basic plots. I think the same can be said of projects.
How many times have you said, “Here we go again” when you were asked to be part of a project team? That sense of Déjà vu as a member of a project team infers that the same story lines can apply to projects over and over again.
How many of you would recognize being part of one of the 7 basic plots.
“Overcoming the Monster”
This is a story where the hero sets out to defeat an antagonistic force that threatens them and / or their homeland. Remember that time your organisation set out to address a shortcoming that threatened the bottom line? Emphasis was placed on things like “process improvement” and phrases like “process design”, “re-engineering” and even the dreaded “restructure” were bandied about?
Overcoming the Monster projects can unite a team against a common enemy, if they understand who or what the enemy is and how to overcome it.
The most noble of projects, the age old story where the hero and some companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location, facing many obstacles and temptations along the way.
These projects are focused on introducing something new to the organization, whether it is a process, technology or product. This type of project can create quite a bit of excitement in the business, but also a lot of resistance.
The original reason for starting a project can become blurred, especially if the project extends over a long period of time and the outcomes are not incremental. Most projects morph into one of the following after a time:
“Rags to Riches”
A story where the poor hero acquires things such as power, wealth and a mate, before losing it all and gaining it back upon growing as a person.
Remember that project that went badly off the rails? You ask: “Which one?” Unfortunately a lot of projects end up being this plot and the riches are usually in the pockets of the consultants you brought in to bring it back on track. In project land, the hero doesn’t always get a second chance and it is usually Team v2.0 that are the ones that have to work to gain it all back, leaving the original hero to search for greener pastures somewhere else.
“Voyage and Return”
Our heroes go to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses to them, return with nothing but experience. This type of project usually starts off as a Quest. Typically a Quest turns into a Voyage and Return when the requirements are not fully articulated and the benefits realization process are not adequately established.
This is definitely another plot on the avoid list, projects are very expensive, resource time and cost written off due to an unsuccessful project where nothing is gained other than lessons learnt can not be afforded. That is usually why organisations will keep investing in a project long past the time where they can realize any return on their investment.
The protagonist is a villain who falls from grace and whose death is a happy ending in itself.
In project land this story line commonly occurs when the organizational misfits are assigned to a project in order to get them out of the main stream office environment. It is that project that is given to someone as a poisoned chalice. There are certainly healthier, more productive and less costly ways to performance manage someone out of your organization.
Projects are generally costly exercises and assigning less than stellar performers to a project where their incompetence may impact the success of the project is not the best way to ensure a successful outcome or a return on your investment.
In a Rebirth story, the protagonist is a villain or otherwise unlikable character who redeems him/herself over the course of the story.
Sometimes a project that had all the hallmarks of a “Tragedy” lucks out and changes into a “Rebirth”. The result in a successful outcome, but this is a rare event, more often than not; having a project as a personal growth experience only salvages a part of the Return on Investment.
Sometimes a project is a dramatic work in which the central theme is the triumph over adversity, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion. Project benefits are realized, everyone gets a T-Shirt and mouse pad and the team will fondly look back at the experience and be proud of what they achieved. This is the story line that everyone wants, it is hard to achieve, but well worth the effort.
The other, slight variation of the “Comedy” is the nirvana of all projects; i.e. a light and humorous experience with a happy or cheerful ending. I’m not sure if this project story line actually exists or whether it is like the Yeti or a UFO; something that people search for but never actually see. I’m certainly still trying to find this one, and when I do, I will bottle the formula and retire happy!