What Harry Potter Can Teach Us About Project Management: Lessons from the Movies

What Harry Potter Can Teach Us About Project Management: Lessons from the Movies
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The End of a Grand Tale

Alas, it’s all over now…no more hallowed halls of Hogswarts. We can only imagine what Ron and Hermione’s and Harry and Ginny’s children are

like, because we’ll never know them. Who knows if Luna and Neville have found true love? (Surely they have!) We’ve had an end to the hulking helpfulness of Hagrid. We all miss the mighty Professor McGonagall.

It’s just too difficult for a project manager to sit back without doing some Monday morning quarterbacking…er, quidditch snitching. So, just how do Harry’s and Voldemort’s project management skills compare?

1. Never Go About Thinking You’re the Only Capable One

In the first stories, allies align, characters are tested, and Harry and his friends begin the struggle that all adolescents go through to find their place in the world. But from the moment he finds out that he’s the Boy Who Lived, Harry develops an air, despite Hermione’s brilliance and Ron’s loyalty, that he’s on a mission all alone.

Harry fights his earliest missions—recovering the Sorcerer’s Stone, defeating the monster in the Chamber of Secrets, even winning the Triwizard Tournament—cloaked not just in his Invisibility Cloak but also in the aura that only he can complete the project tasks successfully. He has much to learn about identifying his tasks, relying on his team, and getting his stakeholders involved—something that good project managers already know.

2. If You Must Ask for Help, First Identify Your Project

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Let’s face it, Harry sadly fails to map out his project. Initially, it’s not his fault—in the first four books, he’s just finding out who he is. He has no idea that there’s any real method or plan until Albus Dumbledore takes him into the pensieve and out to the Dark Cave. Just before he dies, Dumbledore identifies the project for Harry.

Voldemort, on the other hand, is obsessed right from the starting gate with his plan, which is to do away with Harry! Even when he’s just hanging around with Quirrell, he works on gaining strength and motivating his own allies. From the beginning of the first book when he orders Quirrell to kill Harry, to the fourth book when he has him at his mercy in the graveyard, to the seventh book when he tells him to stop subjecting his friends to battle and come to the forest, killing Harry is always the main event for Voldemort. Yes, he also seeks immortality; but he knows that Harry must die before he can achieve that.

In the sixth book, after Dumbledore’s death, Harry sets his resolve to accept the mission—the project—assigned to him by Dumbledore. But where he must go and exactly what he needs to do remain a puzzle for him. Although he has learned the words of the prophecy that “either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives,” he never grasps what’s been mapped out for him until just before he enters the forest at the very end. Altogether, he has no idea how to explore a project plan!

3. If You Seek Resources, Don’t Trust a Goblin

Project resources—money, of course—are not a factor here. Both Voldemort and Harry can draw on endless gold to support their respective

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missions. Don’t we all wish we were so lucky!

Other cost resources are also pretty equal: Harry’s and Voldemort’s wands are twins; they both have at their cores feathers from Dumbledore’s magical phoenix. Each of them owns one of the Deathly Hallows. Whatever else either of them needs can be summoned by them or by one of their team members. There’s an interesting twist when Griphook the Goblin tricks Harry out of the Sword of Gryffindor—a risk not managed. But perhaps Harry has the upper hand, after all; he knows that “Help will always be given at Hogwarts for those who ask for it.”

The lesson here teaches any good project manager to make a stop at Diagon Alley before a project’s outset so that anything really valuable can be acquired or replaced without too much delay!

4. Don’t Let Your Scope Creep Out of Hand Even If You’re Fighting a Creep

When Harry, Ron, and Hermione finally set out to find the remaining Horcruxes, Harry falls victim to almost-fatal scope creep. The trio spends inordinate amounts of time camped out in various desolate areas wailing about what their next mission should be, unable to focus on identifying the Horcruxes. Didn’t that part drive you mad? They make some progress after leaving Godric’s Hollow, finding the Sword of Gryffindor and destroying the locket of Salazar Slytherin. But when Harry learns from Luna’s father about the Deathly Hallows, he convinces himself that maybe they take priority over Voldemort’s Horcruxes.

It’s true Harry also obsesses over the Deathly Hallows because of his interest in the Elder Wand. Considering his own wand has been destroyed—another risk, incidentally, that he has neither anticipated nor managed—he believes if he acquires the Elder Wand, he can defeat Voldemort.

For Muggles like us, we learn to identify our project’s parameters, preferably with quanitfiable objectives: “Voldemort will be 100% dead.”

5. Manage Change, But Don’t Set Immortality As Your Goal

This obsession with the Hallows, however, helps Harry sort out his true character. Voldemort is obsessed with immortality. Dumbledore was obsessed with immortality. Harry must decide whether immortality is also his goal, or is it perhaps simply restoring safety and peace to the wizarding realm through an ultimate defeat of Voldemort. This is the point where Harry struggles with his character and then identifies his goals and resumes their pursuit. When he buries Dobby, he refocuses on his original project plan. And so he returns to his search for the Horcruxes. Perhaps the issue of Hallows versus Horcruxes is, for Harry, a lesson in morals over mission.

Those of us who work without wands must rely on sound change management techniques, alas!

6. Rely on Your Team; Avoid Strangling Your Best Assistant

Harry’s collaborative skills tip the scales back in his favor. Both he and Voldemort have considerable human resources.

Voldemort has the Death Eaters—especially the Malfoys—the dementors, Bellatrix Lestrange, and Wormtail. He also has the trolls and giants lined up on his side. Voldemort does a poor job of trusting and communicating with his subordinates, however. Loyalty is a rough commodity in his camp. Perhaps his most faithful follower has been Wormtail, who is strangled by the very hand that Voldemort gave him. Ultimately, the Big V murders Snape not because he suspects him of double-cross but because he wants to become master of the Elder Wand.

As if that’s not enough, he also has made the mistake of punishing Lucius Malfoy (for his earlier failure to secure the prophecy) by assigning Draco to kill Dumbledore. Altogether, this demonstrates such very bad technique for motivating team members—probably leading to his final downfall, which begins when Narcissa Malfoy tells him that Harry is dead.

Harry’s team includes not only his two best friends, but also the Hogwarts staff, the Order of the Phoenix, and Dumbledore’s Army. The elves work with him, and he has some limited cooperation from goblins and centaurs. All factions cooperate and communicate well, a key factor in any successful project. Harry works hard to make certain that everyone feels appreciated. Even the weakest project processes can be overcome by teamwork. In the end, of course, there’s nothing like Harry’s remarkable collaboration and teamwork skills, and that’s what finally tips the scales in his favor.

From Harry we learn the benefits of interacting with each of our various team members to keep them interested and at peak performance.

7. Analyze Your Successes, Especially If You Look Like a Snake

And, of course, it takes the brilliant analytical skills required of any top-notch project manager: Who would guess why Voldemort cannot

Harry Potter Analysis

possess the power of the Elder Wand? It’s the Boy Who Lived who figures out where the Wand’s allegiance lies. From this we can take lessons to use project management software like MS Project to analyze team strategies and create network graphs.

Ultimately the ending is sad, poignant, heroic, epic, and satisfying. Harry’s project is completed, despite a lack of planning and total failure to calculate risks or manage scope creep, through the use of effective collaboration and teamwork. Mischief managed!


The writer has been a Harry Potter fan since 1997 and has managed projects for much longer than that.

Image Credits:

Harry Potter Poster, by colin ZHU, flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

sxc.hu, filax (image of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)

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screenshot from MS Project by the writer.