Earlier this week, the videogame XCOM: Enemy Unknown was released with much fanfare in the gaming community. An update of the cult classic of the same name, XCOM follows a multinational agency whose mandate is to defend the Earth from an alien invasion by means of advanced technology and a crack team of special forces soldiers.
As a player, your role is overseeing the operations and development of your fledgling organization, and providing leadership for the soldiers under your command on both a tactical and strategic level.
Project managers, you have found your game.
Seriously though: as I played through the game I realized that nearly everything I was doing could be applied to project management. And instead of ruining my gaming experience, I found myself more in awe at how well XCOM drove these lessons home in such a personal and entertaining fashion.
Reason #1: Everything is A Compromise
In XCOM, every decision is a hard one. In order to gain one thing, you will have to give up another. In the game, it means deciding which city is worth saving and which needs to be left to fend for itself. In project management, it’s a balancing act between quality, time, and budget. The key is to pick the compromise that has the highest net benefit.
Reason #2: No Room for Underperformers
Whether fighting aliens or fighting deadlines, teams are only as good as their weakest link. Underperforming members drag down the rest of the group by either their slow pace, or the need for another to constantly check/correct/redo the work. And if a team’s tasks are interdependent, then a single mistake by the underperformer could bring the entire team down.
Reason #3: Plan for Losses
You’re bound to lose a team member sooner or later, whether it’s to enemy fire or to another company. When that happens, the key to your team’s survival is going to be whether or not you’ve planned for this eventuality and can adapt to the loss. Having a succession plan is an excellent step towards retaining team integrity; so are having redundant skill sets and proper documentation.
Reason #4: There are Always Consequences
In XCOM every command decision you make, no matter how seemingly inconsequential or benign, will have repercussions down the road. And while the consequences aren’t as dire as the end of the world, the same thing applies to real life projects, too. Things that may seem minor to you, like playing favorites with team members, for instance, could have severe implications on morale.