Agile's Seven - What Else?

July 20, 2020

It's all about the right team

For quite some time, experts have been arguing about the exact definition of agile project management and the methods that should be used in its context. What is often overlooked though is that, above all, there needs to be the right team in order to succeed with this type of project management. This applies not only to projects in corporate settings; even a casino heist can be accomplished, provided the right people are entrusted with the operation - a fact already known to George Clooney, alias Danny Ocean, in Steven Soderbergh's movie Ocean’s Eleven.

Silhouette of a seven people team
A strong team is not only needed for a casino heist - dynamic project management also requires the right people on the team. Photo © CC0 Licence

Find Your Perfect Team for Your Project

Danny Ocean is smart and willing to take risks - and, what is more, he knows how to put together a sophisticated team with the help of Reuben Tishkoff, who finances the undertaking, and Rusty Ryan, his “partner-in-crime”. “You're gonna need a crew as nuts as you are,” says Tishkoff, recommending talented individuals to him. Rusty recruits them in unconventionally clever ways - for example, during a police arrest. Lesson to learn: Ask your network to recommend good people to you, and make the most of their individual strengths. Recruit your talents by means of active sourcing: reach out to them where they are.

There are seven types of team members that can be identified based on “Ocean’s Eleven”. They all have the potential to be useful in complex projects - aside from robbing casinos:

1. The Visionary:

Danny Ocean has a clear vision, a sound plan and an explicit objective. His enthusiasm infects the rest of the team. He not only clearly communicates the project’s purpose—which is to pull off the biggest coup ever—but also takes suggestions as well as critical comments put forward by the other team members into account during planning. And, what is particularly important, he has confidence in the people on his team, giving them plenty of rope in their respective areas of expertise.

Lesson to learn: If you, too, have these skills, you are cut out to be the team leader.

Somebody holds a glass sphere into the sinking sun
As the project lead you need a clear vision, explicit objectives and confidence in the team. Photo © CC0 Licence

2. The Good Judge of Character:

Ocean's partner Rusty Ryan is a motivator. He knows the individual strengths and weaknesses of the team members very well and has exceptionally good people skills.

Lesson to learn: Let a good judge of character put your team together.

3. The Doers:

Twins Turk and Virgil Malloy are the drivers: They focus on getting things done and act quickly, even if plans are changing. As practical all-rounders, they have an essential role to play in the team, although they are rather the workhorses than the superbrains.

Lesson to learn: All team members are important, including those with less “formal” qualifications.

A steering wheel with leather gloves on it
The drivers are the ones that get things done - even though they have less "formal" qualifications they are equally important. Photo © CC0 Licence

4. The Techie:

Livingston Dell is an electronics expert and a complete nerd. He stammers and feels insecure when it comes to interacting with people. Being a hacker extraordinaire, Dell cracks the casino's security system.

Lesson to learn: Let the techies do their job, and do not waste their time with small talk.

5. The Junior Project Manager:

A pickpocket by profession, Linus Caldwell is not yet experienced enough for tricky coups. He goes about things in an naïve, swift and unconventional manner. Team leader Ocean has confidence in his skills and encourages him to work on them.

Lesson to learn: Help the juniors develop their skills. You will be glad of their ideas, their energy and their fresh perspectives.

6. The Creative Problem Solver:

Pyrotechnician Basher intends to make the lights go out in Las Vegas for some minutes by taking advantage of a weak spot in the city's power grid. However, before he can make his plan a reality, municipal electricity workers eliminate the flaw, leaving Basher desperately in need of a creative alternative: Using a makeshift atom bomb, he ultimately manages to achieve his goal, albeit in a somewhat risky fashion.

Lesson to learn: If Plan A fails, you will need people who are both capable of coming up with creative alternatives and willing to take a great risk.

7. The Supertalent:

Contortionist Yen speaks only Chinese; nonetheless, everyone understands him. This is not only the movie's running gag but also a hint to the significance of empathy. In the strongroom, he winds his way through the laser field.

Lesson to learn: Your greatest talent in the team sometimes needs empathy and understanding.

different colored wooden board game figures
With a team of diverse people with different skills, agile project management is set to be a success. Photo © CC0 Licence

Apart from highlighting the special importance of the team, “Ocean's Eleven” has two more pieces of advice on agile project management:

Rapid Prototyping

After planning their project, the team members build a faithful miniature replica of the casino's strongroom. This allows them not only to simulate the heist but also to make a cleverly timed video recording that they use to fool both the owner of the casino and the police.

Lesson to learn: Rapid prototyping provides valuable input for the optimization of the project process. Plus: Come up with smart ideas that take the market by surprise.

Communicate Openly but not Always Immediately

When Danny admits to Rusty that he planned the coup because he is out for revenge (The owner of the casino, Terry Bendict, has a relationship with his ex), Rusty fears the project is in danger of failing and removes Danny as its leader. The team is left in the dark about the real reasons for this; the project's official purpose, which is to pull off a major coup, remains unchanged - and so the team continues to be intrinsically motivated.

Lesson to learn: Providing too much information can cause team members to become insecure and demotivated. A better strategy is to encourage them as far as the project's objectives are concerned and deal with personal conflicts, emotions or risks behind the scenes.

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