Project Management Lessons Learned from The Wire

I recently conducted a Twitter survey asking various Project Managers what they felt was the most important trait for those in the profession to have. I then combined that survey with my unabashed preoccupation with HBO’s, The Wire. There are some great parallels one could draw between the characters on the show and the Twitter responses.

Fans of the show know this already. The complexity and texture of the series is what drove its’ popularity – even more so since the entire five seasons were released on DVD.

Successful Project Managers need to have Enthusiasm for the Project

Snoop Pearson was a great example of a mid-level Project Manager who worked her way up the company hierarchy.

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She began as a protégé of Chris Partrow – drug kingpin Marlo Stansfield’s right hand man. Her strength was her ability to take a project, deconstruct it into separate components, and deliver specifically what was tasked of her or her team.

In most cases this consisted of coordinating a hit and concealing the carnage afterwards. She was also one of the trainers for the next generation of "soldiers" in the Stansfield Organization.

Snoop’s enthusiasm for her “work” allowed her to quickly move up the ranks and become a part of Marlo’s trusted inner circle.

Lessons learned from Snoop – Enthusiasm for your job is usually recognized and rewarded by upper management.

Successful Project Managers need to have Team-Building and Negotiation Skills

Project ManagementProposition Joe Stewart would have made a great Project Manager.

His success came from brokering deals (or “propositions”) from all the players in “the game”, or the drug dealing profession.

Prop Joe first understood the need to build a relationship with the Greeks in order to get the best deal on the heroin coming into the city. He then maximized that relationship by building alliances with all the drug dealing cartels in Baltimore in order to best distribute the heroin.

He formed the New Day Co-Op – a front for a monthly meeting of the city’s top drug dealers. He convinced his partners, and rivals, that the police would be less likely to bother them if they kept the violence to a minimum. As an added incentive, he offered to supply his fellow dealers with the high quality heroin he was getting from the Greeks.

Lesson learned from Prop Joe – Facilitating compromise and cooperation is key to the success of the entire project, and a primary role of the Project Manager.

Successful Project Managers must have an Adherence to Business Priorities

Avon Barksdale understood this. Along with childhood friend Stringer Bell, Avon rose to prominence as the head of the Barksdale Organization. Together, they controlled the entire West Baltimore drug trade.Project Management

Like a good Project Manager, Avon always kept his priorities intact. He never used or handled the drugs he sold, nor did he flaunt his wealth. He set up a criminal enterprise with strict rules for each level in the hierarchy, and explained to all members of his organization the policies, procedures, and expectations.

His laser-like focus on his business priorities was best exemplified when Stringer tried to convince him of the need to diversify their business efforts into real estate and construction. Stringer was against “warring” with Marlo Stansfield’s crew after they had assumed control of the street drug trade.

Avon resisted Stringer’s advice, and vowed to win back control of the specific streets that allowed him to build his empire. In one of the show’s more dramatic moments, he explained to Stringer, “I'm just a gangster, I suppose. And I want my corners.”

*My colleague and fellow Wire geek, Evans Hood, pointed out that Stringer's attempts to enter into business realms in which he had little experience often had adverse effects -- such as when Sen. Clay Davis pocketed the money that Stringer had given him for bribes to secure federal housing grants.

Lessons learned from Avon – Know your business. Know what you are good at. Protect your revenue streams.

Successful Project Managers must have Solid Character

Project ManagementPossibly the best Project Manager on the show was stick-up artist, Omar Little.

Omar’s character and moral code were legendary to everyone in West Baltimore. He never robbed anyone that wasn’t involved in the game. He hated profanity.

Once a month, Omar escorted his elderly grandmother to church.

Even the police officers knew of Omar’s “code”. After Old Face Andre falsely implicated Omar in the murder of an innocent woman at a convenience store, Detectives Moreland and McNulty continue to investigate – even though it was officially “closed” by Officer Walker. The charges were eventually dropped after Bunk proved that Old Face Andre had lied.

Omar’s unique moral code, along with his patient, methodical ability to plan out his robberies, encompassed many of the traits that make for successful Project Management.

Lesson’s learned from Omar – You are your reputation, regardless of the individual project you are working on. Don’t tarnish your reputation for the sake of a single project.

What traits do you think make for successful Project Management – and what TV or movie characters do you think would be good Project Managers?


I'm Jason Hecker, the Director of Special Projects at Learn iT! Besides writing blog posts and watching The Wire, I also facilitate public and customized Professional Development courses. In a previous blog post I predicted a Cincinnati Bearcats 2012 BCS Championship...and I'm still sticking to that prediction.