Nerd Alert: This Post is About Peter Jackson, Tolkien, and Project Management

By Mimi Dionne posted 11-20-2012 12:11


I’m tremendously excited about “The Hobbit”. Opening in a month, Peter Jackson is gifting us with another literary-based, holiday treat filled with my preferred character actors.  So of course I had to broadcast the extended editions of “The Lord of the Rings” this weekend as I cleaned my house, baked my bread, wrote my articles, and put up my holiday decorations.

If you haven’t seen the trilogy yet, let me recommend the extended editions to you. Because…

It’s in the extended editions that the rich context of the project management required to make the films comes alive. Security was high before, during, and after the eighteen month film shoot (remember, most of the public didn’t know at the time that Jackson shot all three films at once).  The stricture of tight security lifted with the “making of” documentaries accompanying each extended edition.

The extended versions were released on DVD over the span of three years relatively early in my career before I formally studied project management. They are fascinating. The documentaries follow the same formula:

  • From Book to Script: the constant translation and editing of each movie’s scripts,
  • Pre-Visualization: from conceptual art to production,
  • Weta Workshop: making the art and artifacts (material and digital) that comprised the sets and costumes,
  • Filming: the actors and their stories during the shoot of that particular film,
  • Post-Production: refilming, sounds scapes, and the music applied to the film,
  • Editing: cutting the film into the deliverable, and
  • Release: the series of premieres that introduced each film to the world (and in “The Return of the King”, coverage of the Oscars),

which very much mirrors the range of project management phases from pre-planning to completing deliverables.  I like “makings of” anyway, but these are very different. The viewer isn’t subjected constantly to an actor’s empty cooing of, “they’re sooooo generous”—no. What translates from every single cast and crewmember interviewed is their love of Peter Jackson’s vision of Tolkien’s story.  What’s more, every cast/crewmember felt personally invested in by Jackson, too. A tough feat considering the team readily admits no one person knew 100% of the time how they would finish the three movies (the films were literally a life style for the tenured ones).  Most had read the books at least once at an early age, if not several times throughout their lives. The level of Tolkien expertise and communication proficiency on the set was very high. Because a cast and crew of thousands contributed to its success everyone felt personally invested.

In fact, it’s very easy to boil the lessons learned from the DVDs into a few simple rules. A great project manager:

  • passionately endorses their project’s deliverables,
  • communicates well with everyone,
  • proactively interacts with executive sponsors,
  • is generous,
  • is unafraid of their team and their partners’ expertise,
  • delegates well,
  • understands how far they can push their team without breaking them, and
  • steers the team effectively to deliver a high quality product.

Ten years later, I have my project management certification. I have no problem acknowledging those DVDs made a huge impact on my understanding of project management before I formally studied the discipline. I remember encouraging my team at the time to watch them; they are entertaining and educational. If you have a couple of hours over the holiday season, treat yourself.

And go see “The Hobbit”!

#project #Management