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What the Star Wars Movies Can Teach Us About Project Controls

In case you’re one of the two people who hadn’t heard, there’s a new Star Wars movie opening this Friday. In the US, pre-orders for tickets have broken the previous record (Hunger Games) eight times over. A thousand shows sold out within 12 hours of tickets becoming available.

The excitement got us thinking about some of the messages offered by the movies that have come before: hope, good vs. evil, destiny, friendship, and yes, even project controls. Below we offer just a few of the lessons the movies can teach us about effective project controls and improving project performance.

“Stay on Target” with Regular Forecasts

Completing a capital project within sight of your original budget and deadlines is a lot like hitting a 2-meter exhaust port with proton torpedoes while being chased by a dark lord of the Sith. It’s pretty hard. You probably aren’t going to pull it off unless you have help. And since most of us can’t just close our eyes and trust in the Force, we need the tools to provide regular, accurate forecasts.

For a lot of projects, the stakeholders don’t know if a project is going to go over budget until it’s already gone over budget, sometimes even months after the project is completed. With the right forecasting tools, you’ll be able to predict where your project is going and make the necessary changes to line things back up.

Eliminate Subjectivity from Progress Measurement

From watching this scene, it’s pretty clear that Moff Jerjerrod is fudging the numbers and the Emperor is calling his bluff. You would think, with a project as massive as the Death Star, that the project owners would leverage some software tools to measure and report on progress. “I assure you”, in contrast, seems like the wrong approach when you want to ease the mind of someone who can suffocate you with a thought. If you want to make a strong case, make sure you have solid data backing you up. With an accurate measure of current progress, it’s relatively easy to make predictions about future performance. “I assure you, because of this minimal schedule variance,” is an approach that would probably extend an Imperial officer’s lifespan.

Having the data there also brings in the question of how easy it is for Jerjerrod to agree to double the efforts of the project teams. How hard were they working before? Is the cause of the delays due to labor efficiency? Can overtime solve his needs? The whole thing just sounds suspicious.

Watch Out For Scope Creep

Because of the time required to complete a large scale capital project, there’s plenty of opportunity for someone to come up with “just a little change” to add on. And while it can be hard to say no, it’s important that everyone involved understand the risks inherent with increasing scope.

The trouble, of course, with agreeing to one scope change, is that it can leave you vulnerable to additional scope changes. Effective change management is necessary for measuring the impact and designating clear responsibility.

Keep an Eye on Your Cash Flow

In the real world, you can’t just blast everyone who comes around to collect payment. A successful project depends on maximum visibility into both the sources of funding and when that funding needs to go out. How accurate is the time phasing of your costs?

This scene also raises questions about contract negotiation. Unless you’re doing business with a Hutt crime lord, you should be able to establish guidelines regarding liability. An Imperial cruiser is the smuggling equivalent of a force of nature, the cost of doing business. Who’s responsible for that cost? Are the terms clear?

May the Force Be With You

The force of project controls, that is! If you can think of any project controls words of wisdom in the movies we might have missed, please share them below.