Napoleon's 6 principles applied to Project Management

From Projects@Work – Sacre Bleu! Napoleon, Project Manager?

Karen Klein : In your book you mention six winning principles that kept Napoleon on the right path – at least for the first part of his life. Can you explain those principles and how they resonate with project management?

Jerry Manas: Sure. The first is exactitude, which for Napoleon meant pinpoint precision in carrying out his campaigns. Even though Napoleon appears to have been aware of everything that surrounded him, it wasn’t sudden genius that came to him. It was the extensive preparation and meditation he did ahead of time. He learned about the topology, the subject matter and the people he’d be dealing with. And then, he was in constant contact with his commanders. As a project manager, you want to develop the same kind of situational awareness through planning and communication.


The second is speed. If you throw a wiffle ball, it’s light and doesn’t go fast because it has holes in it that create air resistance. If you filled the holes, you‚Äôd get less resistance. If you made it heavier, it’d have mass and the ball would go faster. It’s the same with managing people. Increase mass by focusing people on the most important work. Reduce resistance by removing barriers and resolving issues.

Next is flexibility. Napoleon didn’t follow the classic method of aligning soldiers in permanent divisions. During a battle, he trained them to move as mobile units to the most important area of need, even beyond their division. He also made sure his soldiers were trained to adapt to various situations. In the same way, organizations should not isolate all their resources in one department and should insure resources and project managers receive situational training for a variety of circumstances.

Then there’s simplicity: Project managers should have simple objectives, simple messages, and simple processes. Complexity breeds confusion. One of Napoleon’s generals was trying to get to a town in Italy, and wasted weeks trying to figure out a short cut. Napoleon told him he should have asked a peasant for the quickest way.

Another key principle for Napoleon was character. He said character was more important than intellect, which is true for project managers also. For instance, when his senior officer hesitated to proceed in bad weather during an invasion, the government offered Napoleon the opportunity to take over command. Napoleon resisted and instead offered to persuade the senior officer of the right thing to do. Napoleon did so, and the grateful senior officer was later instrumental in boosting Napoleon’s career.

Finally, there’s what Napoleon called “moral force,” which he insured by promising “honor, glory and riches.” I equate his idea of “honor” with purpose, which is insuring that people view their work as important and in adherence with the right principles. Glory is giving recognition to people for work well done, and riches is saying ‚Äúthank you‚Äù by providing tangible rewards. Napoleon also insured moral force by providing a sense of order, which gives people confidence that things are under control.

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