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The holiday season usually involves family get togethers, and one of our traditions for such events is to play one or two new board games. While playing the games is a lot of fun it is also a source of some useful lessons in project management.

Have the right number of players

Most board games will provide details on the minimum number of players required and some will also indicate the maximum. Whether or not this information is provided, nearly every board game has an optimal number of players. If you have too few, the game might not be as interesting, some players will have to play multiple roles, or you might need to reduce the scope of the game. Have too many and it will increase the amount of time required for everyone to become proficient in playing the game, the game will take longer, and everyone might not be as involved in the play given the longer time they have to wait for their turn.

With projects, while you might be able to deliver the scope with less than the optimal number of team members, it can increase individual work loads, might unnecessarily prolong the project’s time frame and you may not be able to complete the project if you are lacking some critical competencies within the team. With too many team members, it will be much harder to keep everyone aligned and some team members might not be as engaged.

Know the rules, but…

Every game has a basic set of rules. Without these, it will be almost impossible to get consistent actions from the different players and the game might never end. However, the board games which provide some play options or, even better, don’t provide all the answers can be a lot more fun as the players will get a chance to customize the game to fit their preferences.

Projects are the same. There need to be a basic set of guardrails in place to help align the team members and to keep them and the company safe, but beyond those, the team should be given the autonomy to determine and evolve their way of working.

Don’t lose sight of the goal

We’ve all had bad board game experiences. Some times a particular player is overly competitive resorting to cheating, getting frustrated with other’s play or refusing to concede. Other times a player will become too obsessed with the rules insisting that everyone is following them word-for-word. In both cases, the real purpose of playing the board game gets lost.

With projects, whether it is process fanatics, stakeholders with hidden agendas, or leaders who insist on following a plan past its “best before” date, we might not achieve the expected outcomes. A good project manager never forgets what those are and will steer the project as needed to achieve those.

It is the holiday season, so enjoy those get togethers with your families, play some games, and most important, have fun!

(If you liked this article, why not pick up my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on  and on  as well as a number of other online book stores)

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