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6 project management lessons: 2012 in review

Adeline Teoh ed.
January 16, 2013

In 2012 we once again witnessed a litany of damage, deception and disaster—and that was just in Parliament. However, some of the year’s biggest news stories garnered surprising project management lessons.

I spent the early hours of New Year’s Day trying to catch a train home after the Sydney fireworks, which I’ve always thought would be an interesting project to profile. Projects are everywhere after all, even colourfully shot up into the sky. And project management lessons are everywhere too, if you know where to look…

1. January: The Costa Concordia cruise ship capsized
About a year ago, the Costa Concordia sunk just off the coast of Italy. In addition to the stupidity of the reason (the ship strayed too close to the shore in order to give passengers a better view of the coastline—it achieved that and more) and poor emergency procedures, the captain was derided for trying to save himself before ensuring passengers were safe.
Lesson: A true leader is accountable for risk, action during adversity and contingency procedures.
File under: There’s no ‘I’ in ‘project team’

2. March: A doco about warlord Joseph Kony went viral
Evil Joseph Kony was responsible for forcing thousands of African children to become soldiers, or so the YouTube video produced by a ‘charity’ called Invisible Children would have you think. The 30-minute documentary went viral over social media and then, just a few weeks later, died down to a whimper. It was a classic case of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Lesson: Things that get the most attention are not necessarily the most important, nor true.
File under: Reality check

3. July: The carbon tax came into effect
The Australian Government’s carbon tax came into effect at the dawn of the 2012/13 financial year. The spin and the complaints from large resource companies had us believe it was the end of the world (economy… in their eyes the same thing) but, like its counterpart Mayan prediction, it seems the apocalypse was merely hype, not substance. What has actually happened so far: a redistribution of a few dollars on millions of electricity bills.
Lesson: Do what you think is right for the project even if it may be unpopular.
File under: Guts

4. August: Ecuador grants asylum to Julian Assange
Oh Julian. First there was Wikileaks, which was like poking a whole bunch of world powers in the eye simultaneously. Then came the (trumped up?) charges of molestation, which led many to believe that extradition to Sweden to face the charges would see Assange handed over to the US to be charged with espionage. And then Ecuador stepped in!
Lesson: Help comes from the most unusual contacts.
File under: Good networking

5. October: Julia Gillard will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by Tony Abbott
Gillard’s 15 minutes of fame was not really about sexism or misogyny at all, but a way to tell the world that she thought Abbott was a hypocrite. It turned out he picked the wrong topic, one in which he was weak and she was strong and supported by plenty of evidence. Enough said.
Lesson: Context is everything. Pick your battles. And don’t be sexist when accusing others of being sexist. Actually, just don’t be sexist.
File under: Knowledge management

6. November: Barack Obama is re-elected US President
For a while it looked like a Republican win, and then statistician Nate Silver called it correctly for Obama. It turns out Obama’s ‘ace up his sleeve’ was actually several smaller cards giving him a four-of-a-kind: a bunch of minority groups that felt marginalised by Mitt Romney’s campaign.
Lesson: When the GFC blows out your project schedule, ask for more time. You’ll be surprised how forgiving your project stakeholders can be if you promise to listen to them.
File under: It ain’t over ’til it’s over

What did you learn in 2012?

N.B: None of these selections are endorsements of policy or action.

Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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