5 Project Management Lessons From Classic Christmas Movies
Hey there! I’m Sonya, founder and CEO of Nave. I help project managers harness tools and techniques to stay on target with deadlines and lead happy teams. Today, I’m sharing some inspirational project management lessons – but with a holiday twist.
It’s that time of year when—no matter what channel you flip to or platform you stream on—you’re bound to see a Christmas movie.
So why not celebrate the season and take a look at some holiday classics…but with a management twist. Can these movies help us become better leaders?
Absolutely they can! (In fact, I challenge you to find a Christmas film that doesn’t have a management lesson in it if you look hard enough).
5 Project Management Lessons From Your Favorite Holiday Films
Whether the characters are pushed to learn from failure or undergo unexpected transformations, there is a lesson for each and every one of us.
#1: Embrace the Unique Qualities of Your Team Members
We’re all familiar with Rudolph, the iconic reindeer and star of the film by the same name.
Rudolph struggles to fit in with the other reindeer thanks to his unusual, luminescent red nose. Even Santa doesn’t seem to appreciate what makes Rudolph different.
All that changes on the night of Christmas Eve when a storm blows through, making the night sky too foggy to navigate. Santa is almost ready to give up when he suddenly notices Rudolph’s glowing nose and realizes that Rudolph is the solution to his problem.
If it hadn’t been for him, the reindeer team probably would never have gotten off the ground.
At the end of the day, it’s the unique qualities of each and every person on your team that makes you stronger.
Of course, some of them won’t work as fast as others, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t each make their unique contribution to achieving your goals.
Don’t fall into the trap of evaluating your team based on their individual performance. Instead, look at the outcomes they deliver as a team. Manage the work and not the workers.
#2: Manage the Uncertain and Unknown Effectively
The last thing that single dad Scott Calvin expects is to be chosen as the world’s next Santa. But after a freak accident occurs at his home, that’s exactly what happens in The Santa Clause.
Scott is forced to undergo some pretty dramatic changes, both physical and psychological. At first, he resists and downplays what’s happening to him, rather than accepting his new role. This leads to a lot of struggling, until Scott has a change of heart (and direction), allowing him to save Christmas just in time.
The nature of knowledge work is unpredictable and it can be a little bit scary sometimes when you feel like you’re not in “control” of everything. The only thing we can do to get closer to what will actually happen in the future is to manage the uncertain and unknown effectively.
Once you start working on your project and deliver results, your plan has to change based on the new information you have collected.
Don’t try to eliminate the uncertain and unknown. That’s simply impossible. Instead, focus on managing it effectively. That’s what continuous forecasting is all about.
#3: Constantly Look for Opportunities for Improvement
The 2004 children’s movie The Polar Express begins with a call to adventure: “Hero Boy” is not even sure he believes in Santa or wants to join the magical train heading to the North Pole.
Along the way, though, he becomes a better, braver version of himself as he makes new friends and takes risks. If Hero Boy had been perfect from the beginning, there wouldn’t be much of a story – what makes the film so memorable is that he takes a leap of faith and tries new things, even when he doesn’t have all the answers. For him, it’s not a sudden transformation – it’s a series of events that create real and lasting change.
Improvement is not a one-time event. There is no shortage of techniques, tools, and software that present themselves as the solution to all of your problems, but real-world business environments are never that simple. Lasting change happens in increments, over time, each new improvement building on the one before.
Your workflows will constantly evolve. And learning from failure is the foundation of this process! It is the secret ingredient that enables us to continuously improve our working practices, organizational culture and ultimately increase our business outcomes.
My advice? Use every opportunity to identify shortcomings and turn them into opportunities for improvement.
#4: Put Yourself in Your Customers’ Shoes
Miracle on 34th Street is another Christmas classic about characters who must undergo a change of both heart and perspective.
One of the key turning points in the movie is when Kris Kringle begins telling parents where they can go to buy toys that Macy’s doesn’t carry. This horrifies the store’s management, of course, who are motivated to keep all spending in the store.
What they soon come to realize, however, after hearing feedback from the customers, is that Kris is actually on to something.
Putting the customer’s needs ahead of profit succeeds ends up creating brand loyalty, and results in people spending even more at their store.
Always look into the process of defining and prioritizing your work from a customer’s perspective. Put yourself into your customer’s shoes. What’s the actual problem you’re trying to solve? Where does the pain come from?
What’s the most feasible option that will solve this specific problem?”
Try to come up with the easiest and fastest way to provide a deliverable to your client.
The main goal is to deliver results and collect their feedback sooner so you can adjust your course accordingly.
#5: Have Some Fun!
In the infamous Christmas favorite Home Alone, Kevin MacCallister accidentally gets left behind while the rest of his family goes on vacation to Paris.
While most eight-year-olds would be devastated (or terrified), Kevin finds all kinds of creative ways to have a great time during his “staycation”: from jumping on his parents’ bed and eating junk food to pranking the pizza delivery guy. Even when a couple of neighborhood criminals try to cause trouble, Kevin has fun doing his best to outwit them.
A team that has fun together is more collaborative, more effective, more productive—and more successful. Don’t be so focused on the work that you forget to laugh a little, too! Organize an afternoon outing, have lunch delivered, or plan a team building event to build strong relationships on your team.
Lead Your Team With the Holiday Spirit
Apply these five holiday movie lessons and you’ll be sure to improve your project management skills without sapping your energy.
Christmas is “the most wonderful time of year” for good reason. It’s a great time to home in on these simple but effective lessons:
#1 Embrace the unique qualities of your team members. Don’t underestimate anyone on your team. Each team player comes with their own strengths. Look at the outcome as a whole rather than individual performance.
#2 Manage the uncertain and the unknown effectively. As a project manager, you’ll have to deal with the uncertain and unknown. That’s simply the nature of knowledge work. Don’t try to eliminate it. It’s going to lead to a dead end. Instead, embrace it and make the most of it. Spoiler alert: continuous forecasting is one of the best ways to do this.
#3 Constantly look for opportunities for improvement. Learning from failure is the cornerstone of continuous improvement. Perceiving your shortcomings as opportunities will ultimately facilitate an environment of motivation, engagement and dedication.
#4 Put Yourself in Your Customers’ Shoes. Do your best to define your work from a customer’s perspective. Understand what your customers want and need, and then deliver the easiest and fastest solution you can. It’s all about what people really want – rather than what you think they want (or should want).
#5 Have Some Fun! Last but not least, the team that plays together stays together – plus they do much better work. Don’t forget to make time for fun, creative outings and events. You might not want to prank the pizza guy, but you definitely can cultivate an atmosphere of ease and laughter.
So there you have it – five timeless management lessons, decorated and dressed up just a little bit to reflect the Christmas spirit. If you know someone who could use this reminder (and some holiday cheer), please share it with them on your favorite social media platform.
Thanks for reading with me to the end and I look forward to seeing you next week, same place, for more managerial goodness. Have a wonderful, productive week!
Meet the Author
Sonya Siderova is a passionate product manager and a driving force behind Nave, a Kanban analytics suite that helps teams improve their delivery speed through data-driven decision making. When she's not catering to her two little ones, you might find Sonya absorbed in a good heavyweight boxing match or behind a screen crafting a new blog post.