Managing a Project You Can’t Refuse… Project Management According to Tony Soprano
Just like you can’t choose your family, you can’t always completely choose your project
teams. Sometimes you have to work with the hand you’re dealt. Of course, this is not to
suggest you rub out those who get in your way, or make your job harder. But there are
some takeaways from the Don Corleone and Tony Soprano way of operating that might make
a little smoother. Here are a few suggestions.
Respect Is Everything
As a mafia boss, you might think getting respect would be a little easier than as a project
manager. But there is more common ground than maybe you might think. There are a couple really
easy ways to make sure you get respect as a project manager and the first and most important
is making sure your team knows that you respect them. It’s not enough to just assume that they
know it. You must use the word and make it plain and clear. Think about “The Sopranos” and the
“Godfather” movies. How many times does that word “respect” get used? A lot, right? Because it
is a foundational aspect of the relationships among the family members and business interests.
The other aspect of respect is keeping it plain and straight talking. Another aspect of mafia
life is no mincing words. They make sure you know exactly what they think and where they’re
coming from. Your project team deserves nothing less.
You Can’t Choose Your Family (Or Your Team)
We all know in project management that it’s important to have a well-rounded team made up of
members who have all the skillsets necessary to get the job done. But you can’t always know
who on your team will rise to the challenge presented by the project at hand. Being OK with
discovering the strengths and weaknesses of your team members as the project evolves. Keep
your eyes peeled for those who become natural leaders, who strive to learn new skills, who
are the ultimate team players. If you’re the oldest son in the mafia family it doesn’t mean
you naturally inherit the family business if the head of the family doesn’t see your potential!
As a project manager, you are not in a supervisory role with your team. You aren’t in a position
to hire and fire them. How can you build relationships when you have this tangential association?
One of the best ways to do this is to show appreciation for efforts of your team members. One of
the oldest manager tricks in the book: catch people doing something good. And them make sure their
actual line manager knows about it as well.
Handling Scope Creep Mafia Style
Every mafia operation is presented with situations that are outside the bounds of their daily
business. They find people who have been disloyal or requests are made for favors. This is the
mafia version of scope creep. They are continually weighing the advantages of agreeing to a
request and the future benefits of what it might get them. As a project manager you will make
the same decisions. You will be presented with opportunities which might take you off course
and you’ll have to decide if the detour has sufficient benefits down the road to be worth the
extra time and possibly money.
Make Sure Everyone Is Included
The Sopranos wouldn’t dream of having a big family event unless everyone could be in attendance.
It is crucial for family unity and preserving loyalty. The same is true for project teams. It is
important to make sure you don’t leave anyone out. Even if the topic doesn’t directly include
everyone, make sure they are all there so no one feels left out and they are all in the loop.
Any time you do leave someone out even if you think it won’t matter, just know it might and then
you have to clean that up which is much harder to do.
Don’t Micromanage, Just Be Organized
One of the reasons mafia families are so successful is that they are so well structured. Not
just in the hierarchy of who reports to whom, but in the tasks each member of the family performs.
This strict adherence to organization means that the guy at the top doesn’t have to worry about
things getting done because he knows who is doing what at every moment. Now with “The Sopranos”
it helps that anyone who strays can get erased, but you see the benefits of this level of
organization. It may or may not help to publish your org chart or have written job descriptions
but the more you have everything spelled out, the less micromanaging you have to do!
All Work and No Play
Now one thing the mafia families love to do is eat well and celebrate! And it is a strict rule
that no business is done during these times because the wives and children aren’t allowed to
know about what goes on in the “business”. You can translate this to your project management
team by creating some necessary team downtime where you blow off some steam and just enjoy
each other’s company. Keep the mafia rule…no work talk!
“Make Them An Offer They Can’t Refuse”
One of the best mafia lines ever…but hopefully a last resort for project managers. If you find
yourself in a situation where there is a problem that can’t be solved, you might have to resort
to an ultimatum. You don’t want to “pull rank” very often but on those rare occasions, try and
offer a couple of solutions rather than just laying down the law. This is not something Tony
Soprano might have done, but it will go over better in your situation.
Call In Reinforcements
One of the best roles in the mafia world is that of the Consigliere. As Michael Corleone says,
a consigliere is “an advisor…counselor. Very important to the family.” Who fulfills this role
to a project manager? It could be someone in the HR department so that your team has someone
they can go to when they don’t feel comfortable coming to you. It also keeps your team’s line
managers out of any issues they aren’t involved in with a project they aren’t working on.
So, there you go. Put on a couple of pinky rings. Maybe a couple gold chains. And run your project
like Tony Soprano would.