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(Image credits: Warner Bros. & Chuck Jones)

When I was a small child, one of the things I looked forward to every weekend was the chance to watch Saturday morning cartoons on TV. Unlike today where where a vast variety of kids programming is available around the clock, in those days such content was usually limited to that one special day each week. While the visual quality of cartoons has improved immensely, there is something about the Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies and Hanna-Barbera short productions which still makes them entertaining today.

Thinking back to some of the more popular cartoons, here are some of the project management lessons which could be gleaned from them.

Perception IS reality

Penelope Pussycat is a black feline who accidentally ends up with a white stripe of paint down the center of her back. This has the unfortunate side effect of attracting the amorous overtures of Pepé Le Pew, the skunk. Pepé’s perception of Penelope results in a number of embarrassing encounters for both of them. Penelope repeated attempts to cure Pepé of his inaccurate perceptions are to no avail.

Stakeholder perceptions on how our projects are faring might be inaccurate, but if we are unable to convince them of the project’s actual status, then regardless of how much objective, quantitative evidence we present, they will believe what they perceive to be true.

Persistence (to a point) is propitious

Wile E. Coyote could have given up on attempting to catch the Road Runner after his first failed attempt. But he chose to follow that adage “If first you fail, try, try again”. But in spite of the creative genius of the folks at Acme Corporation, a conspiracy of gravity, explosive mishaps, and Newtonian physics prevent him from fulfilling his objective.

While we shouldn’t follow Homer Simpson’s advice (“You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.” ), we should also learn the lesson which Wile E. Coyote never learns that repeated failures with a specific approach or goal might be a sign that it is time to pivot in a more favorable direction.

Don’t let business get in the way of interpersonal relationships

Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog have a very interesting dynamic.

After they each punch in for work, Ralph tries as hard as he can to catch some helpless sheep whereas Sam, in spite of being a somewhat lazy sheepdog, is always able to prevent him from doing so. During working hours, Sam frequently punishes Ralph when he catches him in the act of abducting a sheep.

However outside of normal working hours the two appear to have a very amicable relationship, greeting each other pleasantly with a “Mornin’ Sam” and a “Mornin’ Ralph” at the beginning of each working day. They understand that in spite of their differing objectives, they are both just doing a job.

Misaligned goals and tight constraints result in increased stress, so conflicts between project managers and stakeholders such as functional managers are bound to occur. While project success should be our goal, this shouldn’t be at the cost of interpersonal relationships. Assuming we will continue to work together after a project ends, we need to ensure that the friction is focused on the problem and not the people.

Why not kick off one of your upcoming project meetings by streaming one of these short cartoons?

Even if the project management lessons are not realized by the attendees, the levity should help to raise everyone’s spirits!

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