Insights 10 January 2022

PMO Can Learn How to Win from Squid Game Project Management Represents Survival Challenge

A project management office (PMO), without a second thought, should not have anything to do with Squid Game, the world-famous survival series on Netflix.

In Squid Game, 456 heavily indebted people were recruited to play 6 childhood games and the last survivor bagged the big cash prize of 45.6 million won or about 1.30 billion baht. With careful consideration, there are interesting lessons in many episodes of the series that can be applied to project management.

One of the episodes that provide the perfect reflection of PMO roles and work is the episode titled “Stick to the Team” in which there were 2 teams competing in a tug-of-war at a time. We are familiar with the rule of the game. The team that pulled the other towards its side won. In Squid Game, winning teams not only moved on to next games but also had another chance to continue breathing.

When life was at stake, everyone in the episode wanted to be in the strongest team with robust men in the belief that strength would secure victory, but outcomes proved that was not always true.

Lesson No. 1: Experiences Draw up Strategies

Of course, it was impossible for every team to have many strong men because competitors in Squid Game comprised young men and women as well as elderly people. Consequently, there were teams with obvious competitiveness and the teams of unwanted underdogs.

The question is whether a team with more men would win. The answer is that it would not always do. The team of the lead character, though including elderly and female teammates, incredibly defeated its opposing team that had more men. Seeing all the members of the opposing team were men, the team of the main character was panicking and lacking confidence while walking to the battlefield. However, the elderly but highly experienced man told his teammates not to panic and to execute their plan and use their trick. Many teammates doubted the senior man’s strategy but everyone finally agreed to give it a try because they had nothing to lose. Thanks to the experience and strategy including remaining defensive in the first 10 seconds, the leading character’s team unbelievably had the edge in the early moment of the competition.

Likewise, if a PMO uses first-hand experiences gained from the management of projects of different sizes, degrees of complication and limitations of resources and also applies best practices to formulate the good strategies that suit their respective projects, risks can be reduced and there will be more chances for the successful implementation of projects as planned.

Lesson No. 2: Good Project Organization Guarantees Competitive Edge

Another deciding factor lies in the role, duty and responsibility of each teammate. In Squid Game, many teams did not discuss where each teammate should stand beside the rope. At the battlefield, teammates chose their position at will. Meanwhile, the team of the leading character discussed its strategy and set the position and responsibility of each teammate. The team knew who should be in the front, the middle and the back. Teammates were also advised how they should place their feet and how they should grab the rope in order to generate the maximum amount of force. The suitable position of teammates and techniques explained to each player in the team enabled it to amazingly deal with opponents.

Regarding PMO work, a project organization structure should be suitably created. Roles and responsibilities should be explained so that teammates understand them before starting project implementation. The front player is in a crucial position. The player is like the project manager who must be the leader, make decisions and importantly build confidence and morale for teammates to follow planned directions. This is essential for competition. The teammates who stand in the middle are like the project management office. They coordinate work and communicate work processes both within the team and with customers to ensure agility and efficiency. They also accept recommendations from the project advisor who stands in the back and apply the tips to ensure efficient project management.

Lesson No. 3: Be Ready to Deal with Any Problem and Decisive

In the middle of the battle, a crisis erupted when the opposing team tried harder and almost pulled the flag to its side. At the very moment, the main character’s team needed an urgent solution to turn the situation around. The team had to use an unorthodox method to confuse its opponents. Although some teammates disagreed and opposed it, finally the tense situation prompted the whole team to try the new method which turned out to reward it with victory.

The unexpected crisis that happened to the principal character’s team in Squid Game clearly reflects the real-life situation of PMO because the main role of PMO is to be defensive and ready to solve the problems that happen during project implementation. No matter how well a team was prepared, strategies and directions were laid down and responsibilities were assigned to teammates, unexpected situations can always happen. Therefore, PMO must always be prepared to cope and have plans to handle new problems and challenges. PMO must have a growth mindset and be ready to try newly proposed solutions. No matter whether PMO can solve new problems, it still takes the lead in figuring out quick solutions and minimizing impacts on project implementation.

However, a project cannot be smoothly and successfully implemented unless there is a good and determined team. A strategic project management office plays important roles in supervising the overall implementation of projects. It must understand the expectations of customers and be able to plan suitable project management and strategies, put the right man on the right job, clearly assign responsibilities and apply knowledge and expertise to planning, communication and the solution of the problems that happen to projects. Moreover, a strategic project management office must be able to manage teams and build confidence and teamwork throughout the process of its project management.