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Project management lessons from Angry Birds

Liz Pearce
July 26, 2012

If you haven’t already discovered the most clever and addictive mobile game, Angry Birds, I suggest checking it out. The movie really tells the story best, but if you don’t have the time to watch it, it’s about launching birds at pigs. It’s not only a physics-lover’s dream, there are also some valuable project management lessons to be learnt from the game.

Plan carefully

As each new Angry Birds screen is presented, it’s helpful to take a few minutes to study the layout of the screen. You should understand how the pigs are protected and if there are any rocks, explosives or other items that you can use to your advantage. If you start launching birds randomly without any real strategy, you might get lucky and hit some pigs, but it’s more likely that you’ll waste lots of time and get frustrated.

Similarly, in projects, the most critical stage of the project is the beginning, when planning and discovery are done. Teams that try to fast-track or even skip this initiation stage to save time will quickly lose all of that time (and more!) when they hit a roadblock that could have been prevented had the proper effort been spent in discovery.

Online project management software allows all members of the team to participate in the planning process, by providing real-time, ongoing visibility into each project’s planned tasks, assignments, and estimates. Planning should be an iterative process, where plans get frequent updates as more information is acquired about requirements and new project realities are taken into account, such as changes to available resources or budgets. Planning meetings take place with the software open and shared whether through an online meeting or on a projector, so new ideas and concerns can be discussed and captured instantly.

Online project management software also allows you to learn from past projects about how long things take, pitfalls to avoid, and more. Embedded project analytics and collaboration history capture business intelligence about your projects. With traditional systems, that data is locked away on one person’s hard drive. With a shared online system, you can manage and refer to your project archives more easily.

Be patient and open-minded

Oftentimes I will find myself stuck in a single strategy, firing birds in the exact same spots as I did the round before, stubbornly convinced that it’s the only way to crush all the pigs. Each time I fail the round, I start over and go through the same moves, and fail again. It’s only when I step back and take another look at the screen, and think about taking a different approach, that I am finally able to smash all of the pigs.

Sometimes it’s a matter of sleeping on it. The same screen that I might struggle with one night I will return to defeat the next morning after I’ve had some time to rest—while dreaming about Angry Birds of course…

Similarly, in your projects, there’s more than one valid approach to achieving milestones. Don’t get stuck on one single process or technique if it’s not working for you. Be open-minded and try something different. Step back and take another look at situation before getting too frustrated.

Use your resources effectively

Some birds burst into three smaller birds when tapped, some drop bombs, some speed up, some change course, and some explode. Make sure to take advantage of the special ‘talents’ of each bird, and experiment with when and where to leverage those talents.

With your project team, be aware of each person’s special skills and talents. They might come in handy when you least expect it. And on a day-to-day basis, try to make sure that your team members are using their time effectively. Do you really need all of those people in the meeting? Maybe someone’s time would be better spent researching a new idea, or something.

If you’re using online project management software for time tracking, you’ll get an added benefit: being able to see which tasks people are especially efficient at completing. By having this data available, you might better get to know the strengths of your team members so you’re not throwing the wrong bird.

Who ever knew that such valuable lessons could be learned from a game about birds and pigs?! Now, if only PMI would grant PDUs for the time we spend playing Angry Birds…

Liz Pearce
Liz Pearce is the chief executive officer of LiquidPlanner, a collaboration and project management tool development company. She has worked for Sony Computer Entertainment America, Google, and in marketing, product and project management roles. Pearce holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Communications and a Masters of Arts in Telecommunications from The George Washington University.
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