Project Management in The Italian Job

15 November, 2013

“It’s a very difficult job and the only way to get through it is: we all work together as a team. And that means you do everything I say.”

- Charlie Croker (Michael Caine’s character), The Italian Job.


It is hard to imagine a less likely example of proper project management, but it is surprising just how much a Project Management Professional (PMP)® will recognize in the planning and execution of “The Italian Job”.

Indeed, program managers will also recognize a lot of their work here too. The concept for the “job” is conceived by Roger Beckerman (the guy who is killed in a Lamborghini Miura during the opening credits). He has recognized a business opportunity (the FIAT payroll) and has conducted a serious feasibility study, up to and including developing mechanisms to disable Turin’s traffic control. He also films his business case and arranges for all his research to be conveyed to Michael Caine’s character, Charlie Croker, if he should be eliminated – good risk and communication management.

For Croker, the next step is to convince Mr Bridger to finance the project. This is an excellent example of Project Stakeholder Management – the new knowledge area in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) those of you with recent PMP® certification will recognize. Mr Bridger is very patriotic, so Croker’s approach is to emphasize the Italian aspect of the job. His efforts are rebuffed and Mr Bridger does not come on board until the stakes change and a gold shipment is reported to be planned. This places the potential return on investment at a level that triggers Mr Bridger’s interest. Program managers will recall the Identify Benefits process from their PgMP® studies.

The interesting thing is that Mr Bridger does not take Roger Beckerman’s plans at face value; he conducts his own feasibility study. From his due diligence, he identifies a new risk – the Italian Mafia. Project Communication Management is difficult in this project, since Mr Bridger is in jail. While no PMP® course offers advice in this situation, there are times when stakeholders need to hold preliminary meetings in secret to avoid media speculation, so clandestine communication methods are sometimes called for.

Having secured financial backing and approval for the plan (as explained in the Develop Project Charter process of your PMP® training), Croker assembles his team and holds a kick-off meeting to introduce them – good Project Human Resource Management. At the meeting, he introduces Bill Bailey as his number two. This is another example of Project Risk Management. A command and control organization needs a clear succession plan if the leader is incapacitated. He also presents specialists hired for this particular job - the Mini drivers and Professor Peach, the computer boffin. This is Project Procurement Management at work – extra resources are often identified during the Estimate Activity Resources planning process and these have to be sourced externally.

Following the kick-off meeting, the Develop Project Team process begins in earnest. The cars have to be prepared (lights adjusted for the continent, suspensions revised to carry the cargo (gold is very heavy)) and the drivers’ trained in coping with the obstacles expected during the getaway. PMPs® who are heavily involved with quality will be pleased with the Design of Experiments to assess how much explosives are needed, given the requirement that “you are only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”.

Ironically, the first thing to go wrong in Italy is the contingency plan. Three fast cars were held in reserve to mitigate any problems with the main transport, but these were unceremoniously bulldozed off the road before they took up station. It is a black mark on the organizers’ part that they did not replace the destroyed cars. However, it could be argued that fast cars would not be effective in a city choked by a traffic jam.

The execution phase of the project goes very well. Also, the command and control structure helped in the Manage Project Team process – quelling arguments in the lead up to the job itself. We even see serious monitoring and control. Before leaving their temporary base outside Turin, Croker insists that all surfaces be washed down to remove fingerprints – despite everyone wearing gloves. He also gathers up individual personal effects before the job, to prevent gang members being identified.

However, the closing phase of the project was a disaster and many project managers, whether PMP® certified or not, have seen things fall between the cracks as the finish line approaches. The team members are so delighted that their parts in the project are finished and that everything went successfully, the celebrations start before the bus driver has finished his task. Getting wrapped up in the mood, he drives too fast and the film ends, literally, on a cliff hanger.

While most film goers leave the cinema wondering: did they or didn’t they get away, PMPs® will reflect on the importance of validating deliverables and getting customer acceptance before declaring the project complete. Is it any wonder the Project Management Institute has created an entire process group devoted to closing?

Please note that all Velopi’s CAPM®, PMI-SP® and PMP® certification courses are informed by the Project Management Institute’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Please ensure that your project management certifications are used for good.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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