This is truly a very special time of year. Not just because Fall will soon be here and the leaves will soon be turning. Not just because football will soon be starting and I will be able to soon watch my favorite college team (Arizona State Sun Devils) and my favorite NFL team (New England Patriots). But because this is the time of year where we are at the heart of another Game of Thrones season.

I love watching Game of Thrones. I love how it has developed its characters, its various settings, and the overall story. I really have fun trying to speculate on what is going to happen next. Most of the time, I am surprised by the outcome of each situation the writers of Game of Thrones present to their viewers. With each surprise, I become more interested in what is going to be revealed next week. This interest continues show after show, season after season.

I think the one greatest offering of Game of Thrones is its masterful ability to be unpredictable.

In my occupation as a Project and Program Portfolio Manager I get to view many Project Leaders in their role as story tellers. I listen to many tell the story of their projects well and I listen to some of them tell a poor story for their projects. The poor stories always have a common theme among them. Like Game of Thrones, these stories are completely unpredictable.

How can unpredictable stories work so well for Game of Thrones, but not for a project?

It is all about the value associated with being certain about a given outcome. Projects are endeavors that organizations have made heavy investments in to ensure that a given outcome is achieved. Game of Thrones is a show that thrives by keeping its viewers coming back week after week to see what is going to happen next and ultimately to reveal what the final outcome will be. Lack of certainty is clearly a defining asset in Game of Thrones. Clearly, lack of certainty is a devastating liability within a project.

Projects should steadfastly tell the story of how business outcomes are going to be achieved repeatedly and consistently. Failure to do anything else will cause interest in the project to plummet and resources to be redirected away from the project.

I have three suggestions for you to achieve predictability through your telling of your project’s story:

  1. Understand how to make the expected business outcome a reality for your project: You should fully understand your business case from the moment you are assigned to your project. Then you should plan for the steps needed to turn the Business Outcome into a reality. This should always be the primary story of the project and you need to be positioned to tell the very beginning of this story to the very end of this story. Project leaders should be able to passionately tell this story to anyone. This includes the project team as well as members of your organization’s C-Suite.
  2. Execute!: You are now armed with the knowledge of what the Business Outcome is and what needs to happen to make it a reality. What can you do to ensure your project does not lead to bad storytelling? Execute! Bad project stories are told about projects that may be well planned, but are not executed well. Executional excellence leads to fulfilling project stories. These are stories about project team accomplishment, improved business conditions, and delighted stakeholders.
  3. Recognize that bad news never ages well: Every project has one or two chapters full of bad news. Too often, bad news gets worse when it is hidden away from project stakeholders. If a risk evolves into a bona fide issue on a project then expose it to your stakeholder. Ensure the messaging around the issue includes either a mitigation plan or a clearly understood ask to your stakeholders for assistance. Do not expose an issue to your stakeholders without also doing one of these things. This is bad storytelling that will evaporate the confidence people have in your leadership.

There you have it. These are my suggestions to help improve your communications in your role as the storyteller of your project. Repeatedly describe how your business outcome will be a reality, do everything you can to ensure your project team executes with excellence, and don’t keep bad news away from your stakeholders. Above all promote a sense of certainty in the project. Leave the unpredictability to Game of Thrones!



Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Karl Hallgrimsson

Karl Hallgrimsson

Co-Founder: Project Management for Today

Karl has worked in many different organizations over his 18+ Year career. These organizations include TeleTech, IBM, DaVita, and Hewlett Packard, Inc. He has served as a change agent in each organization, either by building up strong operational rigor in PMO's, or by greatly improving an organization's Analytics capability. Karl's contributions to this site provides practical recommendations suiting a variety of environments, which will be best suited for readers who are interested in updating their Analytics, PMO Operational, or Portfolio Management capabilities.
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