Everything I Know About Project Management, I Learned from Game of Thrones


In George R.R. Martin’s masterful series, A Song of Ice and Fire (currently an HBO television show, Game of Thrones), many characters in the fantasy world of Westeros create goals, make plans, maneuver people and events toward the goal they want, and eventually realize their goal. It’s kind of like project management, but with more entrails.

Although a lot of the schemes these characters are based on objectives you wouldn’t normally find in an office —revenge, reprisal and retribution against an ever-increasing list of enemies — a project manager can learn a great deal from these books. They’re kind of like Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, except with less sympathy and better costumes.

So here’s what we can learn about project management from a few choice characters in Game of Thrones. (Spoilers are unavoidable.)

Theon Greyjoy: Make sure your stakeholders are on board.

theon-greyjoy-alfie-allen-helen-sloanIn the books/series: Theon Greyjoy was the ward of Eddard Stark, given to him as a hostage when his father Balon’s uprising failed. Later, Greyjoy tried to prove himself to Balon…by seizing the Stark castle of Winterfell.

What project managers can take away from this:

Theon launched an ambitious project without ensuring his participants had the same goals in mind. While he shows great initiative in switching his original plan—Theon went from raiding fishing villages to capturing the stronghold of his father’s enemy—he fails to take into account that the Iron Islanders are experienced in sacking and pillaging strongholds. But holding and defending them? Not so much. While his men are apparently willing participants, they actually have entirely different motivations and goals from Theon’s project. As a result, it’s doomed to failure from the start.

Failing to take into account the divergent goals of his stakeholders caused Theon to make decisions that ended up torturing him for months afterwards.

And when I say “tortured,” I mean it.

Viserys Targaryen: Have a clear goal with defined milestones.

viserys-targaryen_0Viserys is the son of the late king, Aerys the Mad, and the heir to the throne before it was seized by Robert Baratheon. In hiding for most of his life, Viserys has become cruel, callous and impatient.

What project managers can take away from this:

Viserys has only one goal—to retake the Iron Throne of Westeros—and a vague plan on how to accomplish it.

  1. Marry his sister Daenerys to the horselord Khal Drogo, in exchange for the use of his 40,000 riders.
  2. ???
  3. King!

It’s a grand idea, but Viserys hasn’t thought through any of the details. The Dothraki horsemen are a formidable fighting force, but Westeros is far away across an ocean, “poison water” from which their horses do not drink, and transporting such an army by ship is a massive undertaking. Viserys’ solution (or lack thereof) to these critical project details is a clue as to why he’s still not king.

As in Westeros, project leaders who fail to provide a project plan, or clearly delegate that responsibility to an actual project planner, find their project going over time and budget. Their projects, and perhaps their careers, could ultimately be killed. Which is exactly what happened to Viserys.

In the few chapters in which he appeared in the first book/season, Viserys is also guilty of a second project management faux-pas: Daenerys later proves to be a far more versatile asset than he ever gave her credit for. By viewing her as merely a bargaining chip for Khal Drogo, Viserys failed to draw on what was actually his most talented contributor. If he’d given Daenerys more responsibility, respect, and input, his plan may have had a chance of working.

Daenerys Targaryen: Ambitious projects require leadership.

doreah-dany-irriDaenerys was treated cruelly by her brother. But she was treated extremely kindly by her husband, and through their relationship, her confidence grew. After both brother and husband died, she decided to do what neither of them could: Take the Iron Throne for herself.

What project managers can take away from this:

If you have an ambitious project in your hands, with stretch goals that you know will tax your strongest contributors, you need more than a good project plan and milestones: You need your people to be inspired. Daenerys knows she lacks all the pieces for her plan to take the Iron Throne; she also knows it involves her dragons, who are currently too young to be much of a threat. But she projects both flexibility and conviction, and that’s enough to inspire her followers.

To pull this off, Daenerys is approachable and listens to her advisers. She encourages them to speak freely but then gives clear direction as to what she expects. Even when her situation looks grim—and believe me, it’s hard to find the light side when you’re leading a band of starving people across a desert—Daenerys commands enough respect to keep her people’s morale intact.

Danerys also shows another key quality of good project management: She constantly seeks to learn, and she frequently integrates new information into her plans. That allows her to take advantage of opportunities when they arise, where an inflexible project leader (say, King Joffrey) sees only distractions.

At one point, she tells her people, “I swear to you that those who would harm you will die screaming.” Remember that loyalty to your team is important, although threatening blood and fire might not work in the boardroom.

Tyrion Lannister
: Turn obstacles into opportunities.

tyrion-lannister-peter-dinklage-helen-sloanTyrion Lannister is the son of the richest, most powerful man in the kingdom, but as a dwarf unloved by his father, he’s learned to rely on his wits. More than anything else, Tyrion is a master of turning adversity into assets: When attacked by bandits, he converts them from would-be murderers into his own private army. Later, he feeds different information to three powerful men in order to learn which one would betray him.

What project managers can take away from this:

Every project has obstacles to overcome. Although you can plan for some, others arrive out of the blue. A good project plan has built-in resiliency in case the more unpredictable pieces don’t deliver as expected: This is of course especially true in organizations like the Small Council where politics can come into play.

Being quick on your feet is no substitute for having an actual plan, of course. But once you have a plan in place, make sure it’s flexible enough to survive a few unexpected twists, and be creative enough to find alternate ways to achieve your objectives when obstacles block your progress. Giving your contributors the ability to show initiative will greatly help, but only if you have a plan (see: Robb Stark).

: Make sure you’re using all your assets.

bran-hodor-1920Hodor, a servant to House Stark, is extremely tall, strong, and loyal. He’s also completely free from the ravages of intellect. You’ve heard the expression, “a man of few words?” He’s actually a man of one word: “Hodor.”

What project managers can take away from this:

Every project of any size needs both talented individuals to drive it forward and people to support them in that endeavor. Overlooking all the assets available can leave valuable productivity on the table and may even cause it to fail. Harnessing the full value of contributors increases the project’s chances of success.

Some project managers focus on their principal contributors to the exclusion of the rest of the team. But that’s not always what those primary contributors need. Spend time harnessing the abilities of the whole team, and those principal contributors will become more productive. Although Hodor might not seem useful, he provides Bran with critical support: mobility. After Bran loses the use of his legs, Hodor carries the young man everywhere in a basket strapped to his back.

Eddard Stark: Understand the scope of a project before you execute it.

promo-ned-with-iceEddard is the friend and right-hand man of Robert Baratheon, king of the Seven Kingdoms. While trying to solve the murder of the previous Hand of the King, Jon Arryn, he learns that the newly anointed King Joffrey isn’t Robert’s son after all: He’s the child of Robert’s wife Cersei and (eek) her brother Jaime.

What project managers can take away from this:

When he realizes that Joffrey isn’t Robert Baratheon’s son, Eddard Stark puts in motion a plan to prevent Joffrey from ascending to the throne. Unfortunately, he is primarily a military man and is used to uncomplicated projects (like winner-take-all swordplay) where might is the primary determinant of success. As a result, he is completely unaware of the political complexities involved in carrying out a plan in the environment of King’s Landing.

Stark needed to consider how to manage the political aspects of his project. If he’d realized the project was more extensive than a pure show of force, he would have bided his time and involved Robert’s two brothers to find a successful solution. Instead, he relied on an unreliable resource, Littlefinger (who even told him up front he was unreliable. Even the most clueless project manager should be able to spot that risk).

Eddard Stark did not understand the scope of his project well enough to execute it. As a result, it executed him.

Robb Stark: Make sure your contributors understand the context of their deliverables.

garden-of-bones-01-1920During a battle, Robb Stark has a plan to draw enemy forces into his territory, where Robb’s troops have home advantage. Unfortunately, Robb does not explain this to his uncle and commander, Edmure. As a result Edmure, on his own initiative, sees what he thinks is an opportunity and attacks.

What project managers can take away from this:

Any good leader should encourage initiative in their reports. A tactical decision in the heat of the moment can sometimes make the difference between success and failure. But Robb failed to communicate his plan, causing Edmure’s initiative to backfire. Worse, having explained the plan afterwards, Robb has now discouraged Edmure from taking any further initiative, for fear it may disrupt Robb’s plans.

Ideally, all participants in a project have access to the whole plan, even if they are only involved in delivering a piece of it: Understanding how your piece connects to others can help contributors find problems early, or help propose improvements, that would otherwise only come to light much later. In both Westeros and in the here and now, there are good reasons to avoid communicating a whole plan. But that just puts more responsibility on the project leaders to make sure the right information is communicated.

All photo credit:

See also:


  1. actually, rhaegar was the heir to the iron throne… (of course he was killed on the trident, so you could argue that, for a short while, viserys WAS the heir… ;)

  2. anon_coward says:
  3. observed says:

    Good, but you mixed up Robb and Edmure at the end there, who is the commander and who is taking initiative?

  4. Daenerys was treated extremely kindly by her husband? :|

  5. Lol, love it!

  6. Daenerys says:

    Dracarys!!! :D

  7. > 1. Marry his sister Daenerys to the horselord Khal Drogo, in exchange for the use of his 40,000 riders.
    > 2. ???
    > 3. King!

    This seems like a reoccurring theme of sorts. The underpants gnomes of South Park for example:

    Step 1: Collect Underpants
    Step 3: Profit

    “Yeah.. Yeah.. But what’s step two?”

    • Baustin213 says:

      I actually just had a colleague at SmartBear mention this episode to me completely separate of this blog post! Kind of a strange coincidence since the episode is so old. Looks like I need to go back and watch that episode now.

  8. what a catchy title..! examples relate more to leadership than to project management decisions though, although PM lessons by themselves are valid.

  9. Carol,

    This is one of the most fun posts on project management I have seen – made my evening. This is got me thinking what would it be for Star Wars, Star Trek Next Gen…….

    Thank you


  10. Greetings from Carolina! I’m bored at work so
    I decided to check out your site on my iphone during lunch
    break. I enjoy the knowledge you provide here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home.
    I’m shocked at how fast your blog loaded on my cell phone ..
    I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyways, amazing site!

  11. Thank you for sharing your info. I truly appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for
    your next write ups thank you once again.

  12. Wonderful beat ! I wish to apprentice while you amend your site,
    how can i subscribe for a blog site? The account aided me a acceptable deal.
    I had been tiny bit acquainted of this your broadcast offered bright clear concept

  13. Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with the images on this blog loading?
    I’m trying to find out if its a problem on my end or if it’s
    the blog. Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.

  14. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have truly loved surfing around your blog posts.
    In any case I will be subscribing to your feed
    and I am hoping you write once more soon!

  15. Hi! I’ve been following your weblog for a while now and finally got the courage to go ahead and
    give you a shout out from Lubbock Tx! Just wanted to say
    keep up the great job!

  16. Fantastic post however , I was wondering if you
    could write a litte more on this topic? I’d be very
    thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more.
    Bless you!

  17. What’s up to all, the contents existing at this web page are in fact
    awesome for people experience, well, keep up the
    good work fellows.

  18. Hi there! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say
    I really enjoy reading your blog posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that go over
    the same topics? Thanks a ton!

  19. We stumbled over here different website and thought
    I might as well check things out. I like what I
    see so now i am following you. Look forward to looking into your web page repeatedly.

  20. Hi there to every one, the contents existing at this web
    page are in fact amazing for people experience, well, keep up the good work fellows.

  21. Good day I am so happy I found your blog page, I really found you by error, while I was looking
    on Bing for something else, Anyways I am here now and would just like to say
    cheers for a remarkable post and a all round interesting blog (I also
    love the theme/design), I don’t have time to read it all at the moment but I have bookmarked it and also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a lot more, Please do keep up the
    fantastic work.

  22. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say
    that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your blog
    posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope
    you write again soon!

  23. I’d like to find out more? I’d care to find out some additional information.

  24. Usually I don’t read article on blogs, but I wish
    to say that this write-up very pressured me to check out
    and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me.
    Thank you, quite nice article.

  25. Hello, constantly i used to check webpage posts here in the early
    hours in the dawn, for the reason that i like
    to gain knowledge of more and more.

  26. You should be a part of a contest for one of the greatest sites online.
    I’m going to recommend this site!

  27. An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a coworker who had
    been doing a little homework on this. And he actually ordered me breakfast
    due to the fact that I stumbled upon it for him… lol.

    So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending some time to
    talk about this matter here on your web page.

  28. In every company, there will always be some downsides.
    If you want to build a considerable business, you’ll have to
    be able to come up with constant leads. What is fascinating is that their shakes actually works
    and delivers some wonderful results.

  29. Apart from this you also earn through your commissions as an person and as a
    member of a crew. Peter Ragnar’s ‘How To Build Muscle On A Raw Food
    Diet’. It helps increase immunity to aid in fighting colds.

  30. Hi there i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anyplace, when i read this post
    i thought i could also make comment due to this brilliant post.

  31. from the busy IGI airport, Because Location is a crucial factor
    in real estate and property sector and location is assume, no doubt.

    It was interesting to hear Savannah tell the tale of the purchase of this
    house. Every item is handcrafted and the hand itself does even its finishing.

  32. In every company, there will always be some downsides. Sweet diet snack: sweet potato You may be watching your carbohydrate intake, but my experience is that healthy
    carbohydrates help me stick to a diet, feel better, think more clearly,
    and have the energy I need to exercise. It helps increase immunity to aid in fighting colds.

  33. It’s awesome in support of me to have a web page, which is helpful in favor of my know-how.
    thanks admin

  34. It’s an awesome article in support of all the internet users; they will take benefit
    from it I am sure.

  35. I like what you guys are usually up too. This kind of clever work
    and reporting! Keep up the very good works guys I’ve
    included you guys to blogroll.

  36. What’s up, after reading this amazing article i am also glad to share my familiarity here
    with mates.

  37. Height always adds get the facts interest!
    I was told by AZ and JR. S S M L. Eating at a time unless it is being used.
    Carefully investigate companies that hire emplolyees directly to the
    service. Mine was lost long ago. 042billion iin U. Not rich yett The biggest ccomplaint is that we’d prrobably doo well to seee improvements in nurse-physician relations,
    boosting both your own handicapping.

  38. We’re a group of volunteers and starting a brand
    new scheme in our community. Your website offered
    us with useful info to work on. You have done a formidable job and our whole group will probably be
    grateful to you.

  39. For those who did that, the food would enter the
    stomach laced with digestive enzymes.

  40. My brother suggested I might like this blog. He was totally
    right. This post truly made my day. You cann’t imagine just how much time
    I had spent for this information! Thanks!

  41. I’m not sure why but this weblog is loading extremely slow for me.
    Is anyone else having this issue or is it a problem on my end?
    I’ll check back later on and see if the problem still exists.

  42. Good day! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could locate a captcha plugin for my comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty finding one?
    Thanks a lot!

  43. I do consider all the ideas you have introduced for
    your post. They are very convincing and will certainly work.
    Nonetheless, the posts are very short for beginners. Could you please
    prolong them a bit from subsequent time? Thank you for the

  44. Have you ever thought about creating an ebook or guest authoring on other websites?
    I have a blog based upon on the same topics you discuss and would really like to
    have you share some stories/information. I know my subscribers would enjoy your work.
    If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to
    shoot me an email.

  45. Great info. Lucky me I found your site by chance (stumbleupon).
    I’ve bookmarked it for later!

  46. I don’t know if it’s just me or if perhaps everybody else encountering issues with your blog.
    It appears as though some of the writtten text in your posts are running off thee
    screen. Can omebody else please comment
    andd let me know if this is happening tto them as well?

    This could be a problem with myy browser because I’ve
    had this happen before. Appreciate it


  1. [...] Everything I Know About Project Management, I Learned from Game of Thrones #humor – In George R.R. Martin’s masterful series, A Song of Ice and Fire (currently an HBO television show, Game of Thrones), many characters in the fantasy world of Westeros create goals, make plans, maneuver people and events toward the goal they want, and event [...]

  2. [...] Уроки управления проектами из Игры Престолов. [...]

  3. [...] Everything I Know About Project Management, I Learned from Game of Thrones [...]

  4. […] orbit of the Moon or (less ambitiously) world domination. Luckily, there’s more than enough project management tips to go […]

Speak Your Mind