With the arrival of another Halloween, I find it refreshing to re-watch one of the most revered classics in horror and suspense films, Stanley Kubrick's 1980 movie, The Shining. The film is based on Stephen King's novel of the same title, but deviated so much from the book that the author reportedly hated Kubrick's final product. Nevertheless, the movie gave us some of the most iconic horror images in all of cinema: the ghost twins at the end of the haunted hall, the child muttering "redrum" under his breath, Jack Nicholson going crazy and breaking through the bathroom door with an axe.
But also, The Shining can present us with five very distinct warnings about how we should properly manage our teams and our projects — unless you want people to start angrily chasing one another while brandishing kitchen knives. Which I doubt.
Here then, just in time for Halloween, are our 5 project management warnings from The Shining:
1. Take productivity breaks, or you will literally go crazy.
Jack Nicholson played the character of Jack Torrance, a writer who became the off-season caretaker of the now empty Overlook Hotel. He brings his family along, and uses the quiet time to write his novel. Unfortunately during the course of the movie, Jack slowly devolves into a wholly different person — a mean, wrathful guy far removed from his old self as a loving husband and father.
Why? One of two reasons: either he was possessed by a malevolent ghost, or he simply did not take enough productivity breaks to keep him sane. End result: Jack goes crazy and almost kills his own wife and child.
Being productive doesn't mean staying chained to your desk for eight hours, only taking potty breaks when necessary. It should mean taking a breather between tasks to keep your mind active and regularly refresh your thinking. It means stopping work entirely to do something else, so that when you return to the work, you can focus anew on finding creative solutions.
Remember Jack Torrance's line: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."
2. You can't manage a haunted hotel alone; you need to involve your team.
While the hotel is beautiful, you can tell Jack Torrance begins to struggle with it. Eventually, the hotel overpowers him. And yet, during this entire process, he never once turns to his wife or child for help. Bad move, Jack.
The truth is: projects aren't meant to be done alone. That's why you have a team to help you out. You need to learn how to delegate tasks, share the burden, offload some of the work. And for goodness' sake, communicate before the pressure turns you into a crazy micromanager!
3. Inexplicable, passive twins are evil. Only one version of the truth is allowed.
Every time I turn a corner in a strange hotel, I expect to see those creepy twins standing there, looking at me with dead eyes and paralyzing me. Yes, the movie scarred me for life. But it also taught me this important lesson: when it comes to project information, there should only be ONE version of the truth.
Whenever you have two (or more) identical versions of a project brief, slide deck, or even a word document, you cause confusion, paralysis, and delay. (And perhaps even a little fear.) It is up to you as a responsible project contributor to delete the old when you upload the new. Or use a software tool that allows you to automatically replace an older version with a newer document version.
4. Empty hotels — like empty task descriptions — breed ugly ghosts.
The Overlook Hotel is a summer vacation place. So when Jack and his family apply to become off-season caretakers, it's empty and totally isolated from the rest of humanity. And slowly they come to realize, the hotel is full of ugly, haunted surprises.
The same is true with your project briefs. If you don't fill out project and task descriptions completely, then you aren't clearly communicating expectations with your team and you will face a lot of ugly misunderstandings and unexpected surprises. They may be serious enough to wreck your project's timeline and ruin the quality of the work delivered.
5. There are a multitude of collaboration tools that are 10x better than telepathy.
I mean, if you're Jack Torrance's child and you want assistance with your homicidal dad, telepathy is probably the LAST tool you should use to call for help — you need to be very loud and upfront.
A better approach is to use a social project management tool that allows your entire team to contribute to tasks and discussions; it should allow people to clearly call for help when facing a roadblock or a challenge. The entire team can then descend on the problem and make sure things work. No need to read each other's minds — leave telepathy for the movies!
Are you managing The Shining?
So, if you ever stop to wonder whether you're managing your projects the right way, remember that you're good as long as your situation looks NOTHING at all like The Shining. Now then, productivity break is over, time to get back to work!
All images are copyright (c) Warner Bros.