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Washington’s 5 Rules for Honorable War – Lessons for Project Managers

January 31, 2010

Those of you who don’t know me well probably don’t know how much I enjoy reading about American History. I was looking up an article online and came across an article about George Washington’s 5 rules for honorable war. As I read through them, I realized that there are some parallels for Project Managers, so I thought I would share with the group.

The context of this article is Washington’s invasion of Quebec two months after assuming command of the Continental Army. He issued these rules as conduct guidelines for soldiers and officers in a foreign country. You will see there are many parallels.

In no way I am comparing Project Management to warfare, although there are some days when it is a fine line. Instead, these rules are a reminder to “bloom where you are planted”, know your environment and organization and treat all of your stakeholders with respect and dignity

Rule 1: Don’t Assume You Are Welcome – This is certainly a good start. Most people and organizations fear change. The move to managing projects effectively is a change for many organizations. There are many pre-conceived ideas about Project Management and how it will affect the organization.  Work to understand what fears/concerns exist and address them.

Rule 2: Cultivate Local Support – This means everyone. How things look on an organization chart is frequently different from how the power is actually dispersed through an organization. As you are working with a team, an organization or a group, keep in mind what they need and want. Demonstrate the value of project management to them. Celebrate project successes early and often.

Rule 3: Respect Local Religious Practices – Most people are savvy enough not to be outwardly religiously intolerant. I believe that this rule has far greater implications. As project managers we need to respect the local customs. You must understand the organizational culture in which you are working. You must also understand and respect the diversity of those around you. Diversity covers a variety of characteristics including religion, politics, gender, education, experience, to name just a few. As the world becomes smaller, we must be respectful of the thoughts and beliefs of those around us.

Rule 4: Don’t Abuse Prisoners – Hopefully none of us are taking prisoners. Let’s take this figuratively. Don’t abuse your teams or other stakeholders. It is your responsibility to remove obstacles from the path so that your teams can get their work done.  Protect them from the surrounding politics and changes. Plan your schedules and timelines with work-life balance in mind. Keep emergencies down to a bare minimum.

Rule 5: Withdraw if Your Objectives Are Unobtainable – Withdrawal is not always an option. If the objectives that you set, or are set for you, are not obtainable, you need to work with your stakeholders, particularly your sponsor(s) to make them obtainable. What can you change about the scope, timeline, budget, quality and/or risk to make the objectives achievable? Of course, after you work with your stakeholders to make this determination, you will immediately manage those changes.


P.S. Happy Birthday George! Happy Birthday Abraham!

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