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Six lessons IT Project Management can learn from Spitting Image

After 24 years, Spitting Image is back. Not on Sunday night, mainstream ITV now but tucked away behind a Britbox paywall.

However effective the newly moulded rubber caricatures of today’s politicians, showbiz stars and members of the royal family prove to be, it will be hard pushed to match the impact of the original series.

Repeating the successes of the past is harder in these new, more challenging times. Ruminating on this thought I could see how this may also be applied to our field of projects and business change.

In fact, as I watched, I drew other comparisons.

Six Lessons IT Project Management Can Learn from Spitting Image   

1 – The Value of a Team Made Up of Different Characters

As with any TV show, the new Spitting Image is largely dependent upon the relationship between the show’s different characters. The interaction between Dominic Cummings and the Prime Minister and Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, I predict, is going to be a rich source of content on this new run – just as the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan defined much of the original series.

A diversity of complementary talents and interaction between different characters is the glue that often holds together an IT team too.

A team I recently worked with featured a geeky, nerdy BA (his own self-description – I’m not being rude!) who is obsessed with figures and data, a Gant chart obsessed Project Manager who, if allowed, would project manage the loading of the dishwasher, a control freak Stakeholder (again self-confessed!).

The fact is you need all these valuable characteristics – they often keep the others in check! If you think your team is missing a vital characteristic, access it from the Project Management as a Service market. 

2 – The Value of Now – Contemporary is The Strongest Currency

Watching Spitting Image at the weekend, there’s nothing I’d have liked more than to hear Steve Nallon doing his Margaret Thatcher from the 1980s – except it wouldn’t have worked!

At the time, it was funny that a male voice actor was playing such a strong female character (Edwina Currie recently said that even the Iron Lady herself loved her “the best man in the cabinet” portrayal. But it would look out of place today.

New Spitting Image is all about the politicians and showbiz stars of today.

In IT Project Management, we have had to adapt and learn to operate in the ‘new normal’. Many of the methods we relied on before Covid are just not up to the challenges we face post lockdown. Our Thatcher won’t do – we need to bring our Boris, so to speak!

3 – Can A Jack of All Trades Deliver Project Success?

Listening to Nottingham’s brilliant Matt Forde work his magic as Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, while other actors lend their voices to other puppets, reminds us that IT Project success depends on the same level of honesty and self-awareness.

Matt nails the president and the PM and could probably have a crack at the other characters but why would he – if there is someone better?

It is the same with IT Project Management, if waterfall is your speciality but a project requires agile – at which you’re only ‘ok’ – why wouldn’t you seek out someone to whom it is second nature? If you’re Project Manager, why juggle your time managing BA tasks?

And stepping on from that …

4 – You Need A Partner That Can Put You In Touch With The Best!

At Stoneseed, we know what we do best. Our strengths, our track record, our capabilities and potential. Our client testimonials bear this out. We know what our team can achieve for you and we can also deliver to you the greatest talent the Project Management as a Service universe has to offer!

My point is that whereas some project service providers offer ends with their in-house team, Stoneseed’s expands exponentially with the ever-growing PMaaS universe.

The talent solution to a challenge that you face in six months might not exist right now, your IT Project Services partner’s knowledge of the PMaaS market has to keep pace with developments, and they change daily – one of Stoneseed’s main characters is a PMaaS geek!

5 – The Need To Laugh At Ourselves

If there’s one thing that we can all take away from Spitting Image, it’s the need to be able to laugh along, even if that means laughing at ourselves.

I’ve already touched on how Margaret Thatcher apparently loved her character, the frequently lampooned Ken Livingstone recently told The Guardian, “Thinking back … I do remember quite enjoying it, even when they were rubbishing me. This was quite light-hearted humour … Being laughed at doesn’t necessarily damage you” and even Boris  Johnson has said that he is impressed and thinks he has got off lightly, describing his puppet as ‘too flattering’!

These days, more than ever, things aren’t always going to go according to plan. The more we can maintain a sense of humour and humility (at the same time as giving it our all of course!), the better it will be for our mental health!

And to take this on a step …

6 – Be Realistic

At the height of its run on ITV, when it was shown on Sunday nights between 1984 and 1996, Spitting Image was reaching 15 million viewers. To achieve that now you’d have to stage a royal wedding or blow up the Rovers Return on Christmas Day.

Monday at school, for my generation, was all about last night’s Spitting Image, it’s all we talked about (that and how tired we were because we’d stayed awake to watch it). I doubt if my children’s generation have even watched the reboot.

The makers won’t be expecting 15 million viewers, they’ll be hoping Spitting Image’s return will boost subscribers to Britbox.

IT Project teams approaching post-Covid projects with pre-Covid ambitions might be in for disappointment. The challenges are different! Business need is different!

A realistic approach has always been a key weapon in our arsenal, today it is even more so and the importance of honesty and communication around what is realistic should underpin every stakeholder interaction throughout the project lifecycle.

Right, I’m off to hunt out that scene from the original series of Spitting Image where Mrs T and the cabinet are in the restaurant. The Prime Minister orders her main course of steak (raw) and the waitress asks, “And what about the vegetables?” If you know … you know!

If, in the meantime, Stoneseed can help mould and model your IT Projects to be the Spitting Image of your idea of success (sorry), then please – get in touch. 

Find out about Stoneseed’s Project Services


Author  Bio

David Cotgreave MBA, BSc (hons), PRINCE II, is Professional Services Director at Stoneseed, with over 30 years’ experience in IT Project Management & Consulting. David has worked with organisations such as BT Engage IT and KPMG, before founding Stoneseed in 2009 and has gained considerable business experience whilst working with a wide range of organisations across the UK and Europe carrying out a range of strategy, review and implementation projects. David is currently responsible for leading the Programme and Project Management Services  PMaaS offered by Stoneseed.

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