Project Management Lessons From “The Martian”

The Martian is a project manager’s movie.1

Even if you’re not a fan of these kinds of movies (see below), I recommend you see this one with a project manager’s eye.

Here’s a spoiler-free list of lessons you might want to note.

  1. Keep pushing forward in the face of failure. Stuff happens. You can either give up, or look for workarounds. Obviously, for astronaut Mark Watney, giving up means dying. But we generally don’t want to give up on our projects, either, even if it’s not life-or-death.
  2. Look at goals, not methods. When things go wrong, Watney remains focused on the ultimate goal. (Or goals, since the key goal – the means of survival – changes partway through the movie.)
  3. Communicate.
  4. Assume others are doing their job. You cannot be a one-person show. You see this not only in Watney, who assumes people on Earth might be wondering what happened, but in the folks doing things at NASA.
  5. It takes a variety of people, with different skill sets, to pull off complex projects. (This goes for the movie itself too, with terrific, understated performances in smaller roles by Jeff Daniels and Jessica Chastain.)
  6. “Do the math.” This phrase comes up a number of times, along with “I’m going to science the *@&^ out of it.” Use facts where you have them, educated guesses where you don’t. But learn as much as you can – and then act, knowing full well that there remains much you don’t know and cannot determine.
  7. Just because it smells bad doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. (Anything more would be a spoiler here. Sorry.)
  8. Keep your sense of humor in the midst of a failing project. It will keep you sane, and it may keep you alive.

xkcd on The Martian

(See the cartoon full-size here.)

1 comment to Project Management Lessons From “The Martian”

  1. Skip the 3D version, which is dim and feels both distant and confining. Get caught up in the big-screen 2D version. I saw the 3D version, then dropped into the auditorium next door in the multiplex to see twenty minutes of the 2D version. Trust me. Go 2D.