General George Smith Patton, Jr., US Army, (1885 – 1945) best known for his leadership of the US Third Army as General during World War II, was also an Olympic Pentathlete, designed the US Army’s combat saber last used dubbed the “Patton Saber”, a veteran of the Mexican Border Campaign and World War I, and the first officer of the US Tank Corps. As Commanding General of the US Third Army, he “advanced farther, captured more enemy prisoners, and liberated more territory in less time than any other army in history.” The tone and tenor of those adjectives any PMP would enjoy having said about themselves in completing a project.
Risk management is woven through a project from planning to execution. Patton understood his risks when taking on a new battle project. He would accept, mitigate, or even ignore risks with his Army as he moved across Europe. The last action, ignoring risks, allowed him to proceed expeditiously and gave him the element of surprise over the opposing forces, often enabling him to win the battle. The important point is that Patton never moved forward blindly. He, like an effective PMP, considered the risks of his battle project throughout its entirety.
When you review the PMBOK (PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge), almost 50% of the Knowledge Areas are contained in the Planning Process Group. With attention to detail and proper planning, a project is more likely to be successful. But, if the Project Manager tries to develop the “perfect” plan, the opportunity for success can be overcome by other events. Patton moved out on battle projects efficiently, ascribing more to the Pareto Principle than a perfect plan. His victories show the wisdom of his approach. For today’s Project Manager, rather than “violently executing” one’s plan, still do so, but smartly.
- Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
As a Project Manager, you are a leader too. Patton, as with all General Officers, communicated his “commander’s intent” before any operation. It allowed him to give the “big picture” for their goal and not have to get bogged down in the weeds. He did not have to tell his soldiers how to use a rifle. The battle plan may have just said “Take Hill X.” In the same way, Project Managers should have properly skilled and trained teams that are capable of executing on their portion of the overall plan.
- You need to overcome the tug of people against you as you reach for high goals.
From the “commander’s intent” that Patton communicated to his troops, he also had to win over or overcome those stakeholders around him to move his battle project plan forward. In the movie “Patton”, in which the General was played by George C. Scott, his column is stopped by two mules on a bridge that no one seems to be able to budge. Patton dispatched the situation with a definiteness of purpose to achieving his goals. (You will have to watch the movie to see how the mules were “dispatched.”) Although you do not have to dispatch the people tugging you away from the project goals, take a lesson from the General and get things moving toward success.
Most military officers and NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) have what it takes to be a good project manager from their experiences in the service. General Patton was a one-of-a-kind. He would have made a great PMP, but probably would not have sat still long enough to take the PMP Certification exam. With your skills and experience, are you close to being able to sit for the PMP Certification Exam?
 A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fourth Edition, page 43