Tag Archives: project management

5 things I learned from The Bells of Saint John

1. The BELLS of GROOMING

clara kiss

When the Doctor’s not busy licking leaves or running around the TARDIS with his Spirograph and a ballpoint pen, he likes to pick up girls. The prequel to the episode reminded me that it’s not exactly the first time that the Doctor’s met someone as a child who, in their later life, he’ll go on to snog.

amy kiss

Not even the second.

river kiss

I blame The Time Traveler’s Wife for all this.

reinette kiss

They’re not even safe in their prams. Especially now we know from Closing Time that the Doctor “speaks baby”.

rose kiss

It was all the other way round with Captain Jack, but there you go.

captain jack kiss

2. The BELLS of EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES CLARA

Of course, companions these days are generally predestined to meet the Doctor anyway, by dint of sending themselves messages from the future, being the future mother of the TARDIS-child or the TARDIS-child herself, and so on. Even lovely, ordinary Donna – who escaped the gallery of shame above – lived under an anvil of cosmic coincidence. And Clara’s story is the most extreme of the lot. The wireless password forming a reverse-engineered mnemonic of her deathbed catchphrase is the sort of contrivance even Jacob from Lost might have thought a step too far.

3. THE BELLS OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Kislet's tablet

Regular readers will know I like to analyse classic Doctor Who villains through a prism of businesss jargon, invoking client/agency relationships at every step. How thoughtful of Steven Moffat to save me all the work on this one, with a classic ruthless PM versus terrifying client set-up. The four key qualities that Miss Kislet controls in her employees are Conscience, Paranoia, Obedience and IQ. It’s not exactly The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but then what is? I like that she has a little weather forecast handy on her tablet of terror too.

4. The BELLS of OBSCURE CONTINUITY REFERENCES

At this rate I wouldn’t be surprised if the fact that Clara nannies for a family called “Maitland” turns out to be a link-in to The Sensorites.

5. THE BELLS OF WHAT AMY DID NEXT

summer falls

Exciting to learn that Amy became a writer after leaving the Doctor! What sort of a book IS Summer Falls? From the cover it looks to be a Famous Five sort of adventure – and I wish it had been the little white dog that came to life on the stairs rather than the snooty girl – and yet Chapter 11 will have you crying your eyes out, apparently. Of course, in going from model to children’s author, Amy’s career path is closely following Katie Price’s. Did Amy ghostwrite any of Katie’s books? This Mermaids and Pirates series looks a lot like a better-lit The Curse of the Black Spot.

mermaids and pirates

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The Project Manager’s guide to Doctor Who: The Mark Of The Rani

forest face

“I doubt the Rani ever does ANYTHING at random,” says the Doctor. But is her project management sense really as strong as her fashion sense? Let’s find out.

1. SET A CLEAR GOAL

Manic miners

In The Mark of the Rani we see a classic example of a fix-up project. A larger strategic project has gone wrong – in this instance, the Rani’s experiments on her planet Miasimiah Goria have heightened her slaves’ awareness as planned, but lowered their ability to sleep – and an offshoot tactical recovery project is initiated. Wisely, the Rani stages her subsidiary project offsite in Victorian England, where her activities will cause no disruption to the mother portfolio. Her metrical objective is to collect enough brain fluid to restore the balance at home, and from everything we see of her I’m confident in assuming she’s planned out her milestones and set a clear endpoint. A great start.

2. ESTIMATING AND PLANNING

bathhouse

Most establishments would charge you extra for this sort of thing

The Doctor’s surprised to see the Rani’s volcano screen-print as he reckons her tastes are sterile. But in fact all the indicators on her balanced scorecard expose her as a fun-lover. Her chosen methodology revolves around milking miners, for a start. And there’s an element of cosplay to the whole thing, with her man-slaves adorned in fetishwear and her own time spent dressed up as an old lady watching rugged Geordies getting naked. (Is the Doctor into that too? “When we went past the bath house that instrument of yours reacted!” squeaks Peri at one point.) She might claim she sees everyone as just “walking bags of chemicals” but I’ve heard better excuses.

Most excitingly for a Doctor Who villain, the Rani actually understands marketing too. We see her sending a child running off to the tavern with a penny and instructions to tell the men there’s still a bit of hot water left if they hurry. Crafting scarcity into your call to action is a time-honoured technique for driving footfall.

So her skillset includes attention to detail AND flair. And on learning she’s been doing this sort of thing undetected on Earth for centuries, even the Doctor has to concede she’s a brilliant tactician.

3. CONTINGENCY

glitter

Peri gets glitterfaced and shafted

Theres a consequence to her removing chemicals from miners’ brains of course.  One minute they’re enjoying a friendly spot of post-bath towel flicking, the next they’re kicking potatoes everywhere and smashing machinery to pieces. But she’s factored for this resultant aggression and keeps well out of the way when the lads are getting lairy.

There’s nothing to suggest the Rani’s project wouldn’t have successfully delivered had she been left to her own devices. But even so, she’s well prepared for any eventuality with a state-of-the-art remote-controlled TARDIS, the insanely camp touch of a glittery pellet bomb built into her bracelets and of course – lying around just in case – mines that turn people into trees! Well you never know.

tree

“Hoist up your skirts, Peri, off we go!”

4. MANAGING THE TEAM

She’s definitely not a team player by choice, and the Rani’s plans are only spoilt when the Master turns up, purely to see what’s going on and what trouble he can cause. He obviously fancies her too – “Anything connected with you would undoubtedly be fascinating!’ he gushes on arrival. Sure, he goes on about some grand plan to upset history but he’s clearly just making it up as he goes along.

So she’s forced to work with someone she hates and who keeps getting in the way of her iterative dependencies. It’s basically an Industrial Revolution Apprentice special, and it’s surprising we don’t get a glimpse of Alan Sugar selling an early version of his difference engine in the town square.

sweetmeat

“Luke, I want you to swallow this very special sweetmeat” – the Master’s repertory of Victorian chat-up lines in full play here

The Master’s the worst kind of team member to be accountable for too, and spends the whole story pissing on the Rani’s baseline – threatening to break her machinery, stealing her hard-won brain fluid and her mind-controlling maggots, and even bringing the Doctor there so she’ll have no choice but to join forces. The Rani’s critical chains are completely disrupted.

5. TRACKING, STATUS REPORTING AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT

dinosaur

The Doctor uncovers the Rani’s sideline as a researcher for the value meat industry

With the Master and the Doctor in town, the Rani MoSCoWs the hell out of the earned value to date, deciding that the only sensible course is to abandon the project entirely and salvage what she can. It’s a brave choice for any project manager, but absolutely the right one. She maintains a cool sense of priorities while prevented from leaving, spying on the Master at every opportunity and commenting acidly on his own lack of business prowess: “What’s he up to now? It’ll be something devious and over-complicated. He’d get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line.”

When the chance comes she’s even able to give him a face-to-face appraisal: “You’re unbalanced – no wonder the Doctor always outwits you.” Such is her own composure that we don’t doubt her. Finally, with her deliverables in tatters thanks to the Master, she takes a well-earned opportunity to knee him in his own deliverables. “I don’t make mistakes,” she’d claimed earlier. And she’s right.

DEBRIEF

  • The project’s measurable goals were well-established
  • The proposed methodology combined creative flair with metrical precision
  • Every contingency was fully risk-managed
  • The project manager was forced under duress to induct additional team members, which enabled catastrophic chaos creep to the scorecard
  • The key deliverables were unsalvageable, and it is recommended that the project manager works entirely in isolation in the future
rani

Project FAIL

The Project Manager’s guide to Doctor Who: The Web Planet

“The power that’s holding the TARDIS has taken your pen!” – but a great project manager isn’t made on a stationery fetish alone. Has the Animus of Vortis got what it takes?

animus

Bad hair day

1. SET A CLEAR GOAL

The Animus has an admirably simple and measurable target – to engulf all of Vortis through aggressive business expansion. You get an inkling of her growth strategy when she describes herself as a power, absorbing territory, riches, energy, culture and, later, intelligent minds. Vrestin tells Ian that when her Carcinome encircles the whole planet it will be “too late” and this is a clear sign of a well-defined project endpoint.

2. ESTIMATING AND PLANNING

It’s no small undertaking. The Doctor guesses that her web has been growing for between a hundred and two hundred years. And in order to do that, the Animus needs slave gangs constantly heaping vegetation into the acid streams to provide her with raw material. Her main workforce is her mind-controlled Zarbi, and this is later bolstered by captured Menoptera, subdued with the golden wishbones that amplify her psychic power. The Zarbi are plentiful and easily led, while the Menoptera are more skilled but need careful handling. In this way she creates a classic hierarchical organisational structure. And as the clip above shows, the Zarbi are creatures capable of, if not actually breaking the fourth wall, then at least headbutting it.

3. CONTINGENCY

sticky

The Doctor’s ring was powerless against the Animus’s sticky extrusion

I’m appalled to say that the Animus has no risk mitigation protocols in place at all. She’s aware of rebel Menoptera forces massing in space but can’t get an accurate fix on their numbers or position, and so makes no tactical preparations against an invasion. She suffers from over-reliance on her own capabilities and refuses to delegate responsibility. Her powers are impressive enough – she’s strong enough to attract new moons to Vortis, drag down and restrain the TARDIS, fling its doors open and make the console spin around. It’s almost unimaginable. More to the point, she makes Barbara Wright sob, which to all right-thinking readers of this blog will be the worst offence of all. But note how languidly the Zarbi apprehend the Doctor and Ian at the outset. It’s a poor manager who rests on her laurels and fails to take immediate action against a potential project collapse.

The first thing the Menoptera do on meeting Barbara is have a poke at her hair. Well it IS magnificent

The first thing the Menoptera do on meeting Barbara is have a poke at her hair. Well it IS magnificent

4. MANAGING THE TEAM

Regular contact with your team is essential to maintain a well-motivated workforce who’ll keep your project running smoothly. But the Animus lurks in the centre of her web so doggedly that Prapilius says no-one has ever even seen her shape. A manager this distant risks undermining the resilience of her team by failing to be available at potential crisis points. Note too, that having tasked the Doctor with a basic project milestone she then makes it impossible for him to complete it by refusing to suspend the interfering power source that’s blocking his equipment. Her intra-competency rapport is TERRIBLE.

Another indication of her restrictive management style is the importance she places in secrets, demanding to know the secret of the TARDIS’s armour before she will tell the Doctor the secret of the venom grubs’ weaponry and so on. And when secrecy gets a stranglehold on an organisation the flow of information within the operational infrastructure becomes blocked to a degree that no-one can achieve a maximised output efficiency.

5. TRACKING, STATUS REPORTING AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT

Once I get Google Maps reinstalled on here we can upgrade it to iOS6, child!

You should switch back from Apple maps to Google , Doctor!

We’ve established the Animus’s lack of interest in the day-to-day metrics of her project. The impressive alarm system that lights up all the webbing in her headquarters is only further evidence of over-focus on her own security architecture. We get our first look at how she adapts to change when the Doctor’s Astral Map becomes available. It’s an amazing piece of kit which revolutionises the reporting capabilities available to her and she’s right to seize the opportunity as excitedly as she does.

But this is where her lack of hands-on team-building skills prove her undoing; her interpersonal inexperience means the Doctor is able to run rings around her by restricting the information flow and even feigning productivity while actually doing nothing. “Let’s look busy!” he even says to Vicki at one point. It’s a poor manager indeed who lets this sort of attitude pass unnoticed on her team. Her rage upon eventually discovering he’d completed the project segment long before reporting in is all too late – from this point on her defeat is inevitable.

DEBRIEF

  • Goal specificity was adequate if ambitious
  • Project planning was woolly, relying on personal abilities and a bottom-heavy workforce
  • Risk management strategy was unforgivably overlooked
  • An over-distant management style contributed to lack of focus among the project team
  • Basing ultimate project success on a key piece of equipment that only one team member could operate was a fatal flaw
Project FAIL

Project FAIL

The Project Manager’s guide to Doctor Who: Ghost Light

‘I never knew you had dandruff!’ ‘I don’t!’

1. SET A CLEAR GOAL

For all the notorious complexity of Ghost Light’s plot, Josiah Samuel Smith would seem to have a straightforward, quantifiable task – to catalogue all life on Earth. But the worst thing a project manager can do is accept an open-ended brief like that without questioning its scope and defining constraints. Even allowing for ‘the evolution issue’ that will ultimately scupper the project, Light charges Josiah with carrying out the survey and then goes to sleep for two years. He only wakes up because the Doctor forces it. What timescales did he expect the catalogue to be completed in? It’s not clear. It’s not clear at all.

2. ESTIMATING AND PLANNING

‘I promise if you enquire about the Over 50s Plan no salesman will call!’

So from the brief given, Josiah’s first response should have been to set a realistic timeframe for the completion of the work and plan what resources he would need. He would have had to allow for his own evolution through insectoid and reptilian forms into the planet’s dominant species, showing an increased efficiency curve as he nears the status of a Victorian gentleman. And a full critical path analysis ought to have sorted the dependent sequential tasks from the freestanding parallel ones.

None of this seems to have happened. He’s pitched up at Gabriel Chase, got drunk on power, brainwashed, imprisoned or sent to Java everyone in sight, filled the place floor to ceiling with stuffed animals, and hoped for the best.

3. CONTINGENCY

‘There’s somebody at the door!’

You wouldn’t call him a planner, then, but you can’t fault Josiah’s careful vigilance around the house. There are secret glowing eyes in every room and corridor, which (in a deleted scene on the DVD) we see he monitors through a microscope. Why be so paranoid, though? His project comes with a robust risk impact buffer in the form of Control, her role to act as a balance to Josiah as he evolves according to the needs of the survey.

‘In twenty years this whole thing could evolve into Downton Abbey’

The trouble is, Josiah’s imprisoned Control in their cellar spaceship, jealous of her potential to swap roles with him if required. We all enjoy having complete control of our projects, but there are times when we have to share the glory and the responsibility with colleagues. This is harshly subverted in Josiah and Control’s symbiotic, energy-swapping relationship. Neither of them can thrive unless the other degenerates. Josiah’s desire to keep Control on the bottom rung of the evolutionary ladder means that, in terms of the Leader–Member Exchange Theory popular among 1970s business analysts, he consigns her to his out-group when he should be fostering her dyadic linkages.

4. THE PROJECT GOES LIVE: MANAGING THE TEAM

Josiah assigns roles in the most patriarchal way possible. Lady Pritchard makes for a stern, tireless housekeeper whose hunger to hurt others he’s happy to harness. Wise, primitive Nimrod, released from storage following a previous survey, makes the perfect butler. Gwendoline is kept on mostly for company it seems. The rest of the night staff are compliant to the point of being happy to spend the entire day stood waiting in a bricked cupboard.

There’s a VERY strict chamberpot rota in there

He undertakes some work directly, an extended study on moth colouration within species for instance, and has learned and spoken enough about natural selection for his theories to be noted in academic circles. But you sense his heart isn’t in the project, and his passion is for his sideways ambition to assassinate the Queen and rule Britannia. At least his megalomania is expressed in terms of good PM practice: ‘The British Empire is an anarchic mess. There’s no clear directive from the throne, no discipline. Result? Confusion. Wastage. I can provide a new order.’

5. TRACKING, STATUS REPORTING AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT

Everything in the house runs like clockwork – to the literal point that the night staff start when the clock strikes six, whether or not it’s actually six o’clock. But as we’ve seen, Josiah sits atop this efficient structure doing little but indulge his fancies. He files no updates at all, in fact is so terrified that Light will wake up demanding a progress report that he begs the Doctor not even to touch his chamber.

The escape of Control is Josiah’s first serious problem. His immediate act is to offer the Doctor £5,000 to deal with her. It’s a great bit of speculative contractor recruitment in one sense, as he’s clearly identified the Doctor’s core competencies quickly and shrewdly, but of course he’s misjudged our hero’s motives and morals.

‘Centuries of work wasted!’

And it’s the Doctor who brings Light back into the project environment. Light’s a combination of all the worst clients you’ve ever had – he can kill with a single glance, people have gone mad on meeting him and he’s so stubborn he’d rather cancel the whole project than deal with the implications of all the amendments to the catalogue. I spent many years project managing catalogue production for some well known high street shops and it was a proper trial. The Christmas ones were the worst. The amendments were never ending. I do know how Light feels.

 So, naturally Josiah’s response to the unexpected client visit is to a) run away and b) try to kill him – we’ve all been there. And his treatment of his colleague Control catches up with him; having treated her as a ‘depraved monstrosity’ for so long she’s so desperate for freeness and change that she evolves far quicker than he ever could and takes his place. He’s left, a snivelling wretch on the floor, stripped of all authority and facing a servile future as the project starts anew elsewhere. Wicked.

‘What version of Lotus 1-2-3 is this? Don’t tell me it’s evolved into Excel aready.’

DEBRIEF

  • An unrestricted set of ultimate deliverables left the project vulnerable to scope creep
  • Failure to identify key milestones along the critical path meant that ongoing schedule evaluation was impossible
  • The core team performed well, however the relationship with the Control creature was decisively anti-synergistic
  • The project manager lacked focus and failed to leverage his own time to effectively prioritise the project
  • Client reporting and expectation management were shoddy to the point of opacity. When finally given access to the survey data, the stakeholder was forced to withdraw his buy-in completely
  • The project could only have succeeded if achievable parameters had been negotiated and agreed at the briefing stage

The Project Manager’s guide to Doctor Who: The Android Invasion

In this series I’m applying the methodologies of my day job to classic Doctor Who stories. Project management is a subtle profession requiring people skills and precise organisational abilities. Let’s find out if Styggron’s got what it takes.

‘And when I turned round, they were ALL wearing eyepatches!’

1. SET A CLEAR GOAL

The Android Invasion’s the whole reason I started writing this series. Chatting to Dan about it one day I blurted out that from a project management point of view, the Kraals were terrifying – and the seed of looking at Doctor Who stories from this angle was sown. So as I sit down to tear their famously awful, convoluted plan to pieces it would be embarrassing if I had my own personal ‘Oops no sorry look actually my eye was there all the time’ moment, wouldn’t it. I mean, no-one in their right mind thinks this plan makes sense, do they. Do they?

2. ESTIMATING AND PLANNING

No-one could say that the Kraals were under-prepared. They spend a full two years preparing for and rehearsing their invasion. They ransack the contents of their kidnapped astronaut’s brain and create exact plastic copies of Britain’s Space Defence Station and its surroundings on their home planet. Then they populate their rhino Legoland with perfect copies of all the real people in the original area.

The androids were not very frightening

 The standard criticism of this is that it seems pointless, when their actual plan is to wipe out humanity with a virus. Why make androids pose as a ragtag assortment of villagers and test them until they achieve full, terrifying mastery of the art of hanging around in a pub at lunchtime? I say why not. The virus will take three weeks to disseminate, we hear, and it seems that it needs to be added to water and food supplies. So why shouldn’t their androids be copies of publicans, butchers and shopkeepers and practice their daily routines?

Actually no, this one gives me the shits

Resource and timings are the biggest issues facing any project manager at the start of a large campaign. And if it seems that Styggron has gone over the top with his methodology, consider that he’s got, effectively, unlimited resource at his disposal. Compare how casually the fake village is destroyed with a ‘matter dissolving bomb’ with how, the one time we see an android being created, it just appears out of nowhere around a skeletal frame. I think the Kraals have mastered the conservation and recreation of matter, and can spend as much energy fashioning McEwan’s Export bar towels, little boxes of York jelly fruits, copies of the Daily Express and posters with pictures of cheese on them as they like.

The Doctor recognises their enormous technological abilities and ponders – along with everyone watching – why they don’t just take Earth by force with weapons. But considering they’re trying to escape from a radiation-ravaged planet, not ruin an unspoiled one, I think that question answers itself.

3. CONTINGENCY

Leaving aside that the very first thing we see on screen is a wonky android lurching to robo-suicide, Styggron’s got all the details under control. ‘Strategy is formulated upon knowledge,’ he declares when criticised for baiting the Doctor with an android Sarah. ‘It is important to see that our techniques are flawless.’ He even prepares for the unlikely event of an android revolt with the production of a weapon that deactivates them.

Are the dogs androids too? They’ve done the tongues well

As a project manager you rarely get the chance to test your processes before going live. Everything is done on the hoof. Styggron defies this with a constant insistence on testing. Again and again we see him pushing at the limits of the plan to eliminate any weaknesses, immediately eager for instance to factor in a trial run of the virus on a living human organism, a test which only suddenly becomes possible when the TARDIS arrives.

4. MANAGING THE TEAM

Styggron’s an extremely shouty, bullying manager. ‘Do as I say!’ he bellows at a cowering Crayford, unneccessarily adding ‘You SHALL do as I say!’ before unleashing some sort of pain wave. But then it must be stressful when you constantly need to distract your main team member from looking – or even scratching – under his eyepatch. To be honest the further I get into this analysis the more respect for Styggron I’ve got.

Apart from the androids, who obey him without question, the only other person Styggron has to liaise with as chief scientist is Marshall Chedaki. Military credentials on Oseidon are apparently conveyed by a nice chunky bit of gold bling around the neck, and Styggron treats his colleague with the disdain he deserves.

5. TRACKING, STATUS REPORTING AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT

‘There can be no variation in the schedule!’ screams Styggron at one point. All of us project managers feel like that from time to time. But flexible adaptation to the ongoing requirements of the project is the key to success and we can see that he does that alright. For instance his initial wave of androids has already been updated to reflect the latest staff changes at the Space Defence Station – presumably he learned about the Brigadier’s trip to Geneva from Crayford’s recent radio contact with Earth.

The range of phones pictured is available at Tandy’s

As for keeping track of things, he’s always firing up his communicator and shouting ‘Report! Report!’ if he hasn’t heard from his underling enough. The first time we see him he’s immediately noticed that the order for all units to recharge hasn’t been followed and is barking at Crayford about having detected a random unit. He’s clearly keeping a very close eye on progress.

DEBRIEF

  • The project manager was responsible for controlling a complex, large-scale operation with flair and great attention to detail
  • An extensive pre-project testing programme was carried out with unqualified success. The dogs were good
  • Application of the latest scientific techniques was well-deployed and benefit-rich as regards the through-the-line implementation of the plan
  • Management style bordered on the bullish but was thoroughly appropriate to the evolving needs of the process
  • ‘And all brilliantly planned by Styggron!’

Project WIN!

(I mean, if the Doctor hadn’t blundered into things, the Kraals’ plan would have succeeded. Within minutes of Crayford’s rocket touching down on Earth, the commanding officer and the key military staff of the Space Defence Station have all been seamlessly replaced by androids. We’d all have been dead from ginger beer by the 28th July and Blade Runner would never even have been made.)

The Project Manager’s guide to Doctor Who: The War Games

In this series I’m applying the methodologies of my day job to classic Doctor Who stories. Project management is a subtle profession requiring people skills and precise organisational abilities. Let’s find out if the War Chief’s got what it takes.

Every freelancer brings their own unique skillset to an organisation

1. SET A CLEAR GOAL

When we looked at Castrovalva in the first instalment of the series, we were analysing a self-starting project manager who was setting his own goals. In The War Games we’re looking at a more common scenario — our hero the War Chief is a freelancer who’s been employed to manage the War Lord’s people’s grand scheme. Their plan to raise a galactic army by kidnapping soldiers from across Earth’s history and whittling them down to find the best fighters may seem convoluted and ludicrous, but getting a ridiculous brief from a client and having to make the best of it is a daily occurrence in our profession. The question is: can you deliver?

2. ESTIMATING AND PLANNING

Amongst other capabilities, the War Chief contributed the TIme Lords' unique 'fridge magnet' control system to the operation

For a project so mammoth in scope, a great deal of resource is required. A suitable planet is found to host the games, and the War Chief contributes time travel capability to his clients’ existing brainwashing technology. Processing and relocating all the participating armies along with great chunks of landscape, ordnance and architecture must have been a logistical nightmare, but thanks to the War Chief everything seems to be running efficiently when we join the project. A clear line management structure is in place with the likes of General ‘glasses of doom’ Smythe running a tight ship in the 1917 zone, where we hear Captain Ransom telling Lady Jennifer: “People don’t understand. It’s the paperwork you see. It’s quite fantastic how many forms we have to fill in.” Reassuring.

If I said you had a beautiful body, you would believe it WITHOUT QUESTION

3. CONTINGENCY

Contingency’s the art of preparing for what might go wrong. We never hear of any particular timeframes that have been assigned to the project so delays aren’t necessarily an issue. And we see that the War Chief keeps a close eye on the one thing which could (and does) go wrong – the brainwashing process. We see him checking in with the head of science and responding to the news that it has a 95% success rate with the words “I’m not interested in excuses”. 95% is fucking brilliant if you ask me. But as a great project manager, he’s instinctively applying quantitative analysis and recognises that 5% of free-thinking humans could pose a serious threat.

And yet the process seemed so foolproof

There’s no black mark to the later revelation that his time travel machines have almost completely run out of energy – the project aim is to to conquer the galaxy and subjugate 1000 inhabited worlds, and time travel isn’t required for that. The SIDRATs trigger no further dependencies on the critical path. In project terms he’s met the goal parameters by using the available resources exactly to capacity. And that’s amazing.

4. MANAGING THE TEAM

The War Chief has a commanding presence, a nice way of strutting into a room and a deliciously camp, snarling way of delivering his instructions – we can imagine he’s a popular team leader. He’s described as ‘silver-tongued’ yet we also see that he’s not shy of injecting an element of threat into his briefs – “I hope for your own sake the experiment will be successful” is much more stick than carrot, for instance. Happy to get hands-on (as we see when he takes over from a technician in episode 6), he seems always to be seething with anger but tightly under control.

There are holes in the process, though. “Didn’t you receive your instructions?” he asks General Smythe in episode 7. And we learn that despite – or even perhaps because of – doing everything right, the War Chief is mistrusted, disobeyed. “I was promised efficiency and co-operation! Without the knowledge I have, this complete venture would be impossible!” he complains. We’ve all been there.

Even sitting on a chair incorrectly can foment hostility towards a visiting freelancer

And it’s the Security Chief we can blame for this. Resentful and disparaging of this senior member of staff brought in above him, he publicly badmouths our hero at every opportunity and spreads doubt about his loyalty. It’s a situation that will be sadly familiar to any freelancer – however good your work, the existing staff structure will violently cling together to ensure you never forget you’re an outsider.

Still, the bickering between the War Chief and the Security Chief is always fantastic. We’re not even halfway through the story before the War Chief starts calling his colleague incompetent. And of course, it leads to one of Doctor Who’s greatest exchange of insults of all time.

5. TRACKING, STATUS REPORTING AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT

The War Chief runs a tight operation and responds immediately and effectively to any crisis. He prides himself on his logical approach. Phrases such as “In future inform me of all such developments,” are never far from his lips, and we see him supervising even those operations for which he doesn’t have direct responsibility, such as Jamie’s interrogation.

The late, great Philip Madoc

But it’s the arrival of the War Lord from the home planet that throws everything into disarray. The Chief greets this news with the calm panic common to any PM faced with a visit from their key stakeholder at short notice. To be fair, the War Lord is a terrifying client. Sarcastic, suspicious and with a quietly kinky undertow, he’s mesmerising to watch and I’m sure a bastard to work for. We’ve all had devastating conference calls with his type.

Inevitably the client’s arrival is the catalyst for the in-fighting amongst management to escalate. “I am tired of this eternal bickering,” says the War Lord, a full three minutes after arriving at HQ. He hasn’t even sat through the previous six episodes! The classic technique of blaming a recently departed employee is deployed. “Smythe was a fool, he deserved to die!” spits the Chief immediately after the unlucky martinet is shot.

At the end of episode 7 the Chief is, effectively, sacked as project manager while the War Lord takes charge himself. An ignominious end to a project for any professional. But he wasn’t to blame. “I am in complete control,” he says just before that, even as the resistance rises and the operation spectacularly begins to fall apart. You believe him.

If only they'd given him one of these flattering uniforms

He continues to work as a sort of consultant – after all, his skills are irreplaceable – and has the dubious pleasure of seeing things fall apart without him as the  remaining team make increasingly dubious decisions. Their preparing to drop a neutron bomb, for instance, is as typically frustrating an instance of a client undoing all your hard work as I’ve ever seen.

Sadly the War Chief is finally shot dead by his clients to prevent him taking their secrets to a rival agency – a shame, as simply signing a standard confidentiality agreement at the start of the process would have obviated this. Before his death, he confides in the Doctor that his motivation in aiding the War Lord’s people’s plan was to “bring order”. A great project manager to the end.

And I'll need a VERY BIG MAP

DEBRIEF

  • The freelance project manager was given overall responsibility for all pre-planned war game activities
  • His allocation of necessary inputs was fully optimised to allow the project to begin with high efficiency levels
  • With hindsight, the responsibility assignment matrix should have allocated equal accountability to a permanent member of staff
  • Process execution and change control were good, but undermined by a clash of management styles within the organisation
  • What a stupid fool he was

Project FAIL

The Project Manager’s guide to Doctor Who: Castrovalva

Welcome to a new series in which I apply the methodologies of my day job to classic Doctor Who stories. Project management is a subtle profession requiring people skills and precise organisational abilities. Let’s find out if the Master’s got what it takes.

1. SET A CLEAR GOAL

In Castrovalva, the Master’s goal is to humiliate and kill the Doctor. It’s the vagueness of the ‘humiliation’ aspect that will eventually cause the project to fail. With the powers available to him in this story, killing the Doctor would be a precise and quickly achievable aim. But by over-complicating his win-conditions – namely that the Doctor must know before dying that he’s been trapped and defeated – the Master allows too many random variables to affect his plan. “These facile victories only leave me hungry for more conquest!” he declares at one point. And this obsession with setting himself convoluted challenges will be his undoing.

2. ESTIMATING AND PLANNING

This is however a very well planned project.  Castrovalva clearly doesn’t follow on as immediately from Logopolis for the Master as it does for the Doctor and his friends. He’s taken some time out in the vortex to consider how much more powerful block transfer computation is than he realised and decided to recruit Adric to his project team, noting that the boy can a) add up and b) fill a pair of pyjama bottoms to his liking. Then he’s made a quick trip to the planet Hadron, whose inhabitants will face some delayed trains the next morning as they find the overhead power lines missing. Only at this point does his Pillar of Doom pop up (in front of some pylons appropriately enough), his Web fully constructed and waiting within. Collating and readying all necessary resources before the project’s start date is an admirable achievement and ought to help towards success.

3. CONTINGENCY

The Master’s risk management record here is exemplary. He confides to Adric at one point that should his plan for the Doctor to perish in the hydrogen in-rush fail, he’s prepared a trap behind the trap. And when he learns that it’ll be necessary for him to use up this contingency, you’ll note that it then takes only seconds for him to cause all the associated information (about neutral interfaces in real locations, ‘Classic Plainness’ and ‘Dwellings of Simplicity’) to pop up unprompted on the TARDIS’s databank screen. It’s a clear sign that these project assets have been prepared well before they should be needed, and another good mark for the Master.

We can assume too that at this point the Master uses the other main tool available to him – time travel – to set up the dwellings of Castrovalva well before the Doctor arrives. It’s impossible to guess how long the citadel has existed for, as all its inhabitants are created with pre-loaded memories. But from the looks of it Adric hasn’t aged much, so it can’t have taken more than say a few months to set up. Although at one point the Master does threaten to keep him in the Web for eternity so who knows, maybe it keeps life in some sort of stasis and they’ve been hanging around for years. Either way, bodily functions aren’t impaired in the Web AS WE HAVE REGRETTABLY SEEN AND CAN NEVER UNSEE, so those pyjamas must stink.

4. THE PROJECT GOES LIVE: MANAGING THE TEAM

In choosing Adric as the only member of his team, the Master is putting a high project dependency on the lad’s computational powers. Happily they really are impressive. Seconds after the real teenager has been kidnapped and flung into the Web, telebiogenesis Adric appears and spends a remarkably short time at one panel of the TARDIS console, during which he not only dematerialises the ship but also, apparently, sets and locks the co-ordinates for Event One and pre-programmes both co-ordinates and landing for the contingency plan.

The depletion of Tegan's make-up supplies was NOT budgeted for

But the Master has made a sloppy assumption: that he will be able to restrict Adric’s activities to prevent him from aiding his friends and Tegan, or else command his absolute loyalty. So Adric manages to undermine the project goals by giving the inhabitants of Castrovalva enough intelligence and free will to assist the Doctor.

Is the Master’s management style at fault? It’s certainly inconsistent, roving from apparent sympathy with Adric’s viewpoint ( “If escape were that easy, we could all be free of this nasty world”) to an emphasis on detachment (“You must control these dangerous emotions!”) and an authoritarian slant (“You can’t escape, you’re mine, Adric! Mine! Until we have completed our final task”) which at its worst leads to his dismissively referring to his employee as “a mere utility”.

5. TRACKING, STATUS REPORTING AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT

“The Master leaves nothing to chance,” admits the Doctor at one point. And his enemy certainly loves a regular status check – he monitors the TARDIS up until the last moment as it hurtles towards Event One, and in Castrovalva he gets hands-on to keep an eye on the Doctor in person. He has a good feel too for the day-to-day timeflow and resource management that a big project requires – “Now save your energies. There’s so much yet to be done!”

Fashion design with Adric

One thing we never see is the design briefing meeting the Master must have held with Adric at the project’s critical point: the creation of Castrovalva and its denizens. They end up with such a sumptuous, ridiculous looking town that I can only imagine the Master flinging countless contradictory instructions at the boy and expecting them all to be met at once. This is not uncommon in the real world either, to be fair. “Let’s have alpaca robes and a sort of hockey mask for the hunting party! With a Mardi Gras feel! And hats! Lots of hats! The biggest one for me! And some cobweb gloves! And bindis! Oh and can you base the city’s shape on these old mathematically-inspired paradoxical etchings so that we can fold time and space in on each other at the end cheers nyah hah hah.”

DEBRIEF

  • An overcomplicated set of subsidiary goals contributed to the project’s failure
  • Project planning, asset collation and contingency allowances were all excellent
  • The team was chosen well with regards to its skill-set, however its lack of buy-in to the stakeholder’s win-conditions also contributed to the project’s failure
  • Time spent micro-managing the team might have been better spent motivating it
  • That cock-up with the library books was sloppy. A proofreader/quality-checker should have been employed
  • Overall the project manager was competent, but would work better as part of a team

Project FAIL