Project management issues appear in many more places than we realise. There's one area of cultural arts that is absolutely riddled with problem solving, leadership issues and management conundrums… movies. The classic formula of beginning, problem, low point, solution, echoes throughout project trajectories too.

Here are our top 5 movies that every project manager should watch.

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Salmon Fishing In The Yemen

What's it about?

Dr. Fred Jones, as fishery expert, is flown out to Yemen to discover whether a salmon fishing industry could be developed there. His initial feeling is that this might be an entire waste of time. Fred meets Sheikh Mohammad, the conceiver of the scheme, and together they - eventually - complete the project. At the very end of the film, terrorists break into the new dam and open the flood gates, destroying the valley and washing away all the fish. The Sheikh is undeterred and vows to rebuild, with local support. Just as the film ends, we see a shot of some salmon jumping – indicating that some survived.

What do we learn?

Not to throw out ideas as impossible and unfeasible, without first discussing and even trialling them. Secondly, that just because a project may fail in one area, it does not render the entire project a failure. The valley was destroyed by terrorists because the Sheikh had failed to involve the locals in a venture in their own lands. From a project management point of view, there should have been a contingency plan for this – and there certainly would be before the second attempt.

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Bridge Of Spies

What's it about?

A true story about James B. Donovan - Tom Hanks - an insurance lawyer, who finds himself in the middle of the Cold War when he's asked to defend a possible Russian spy in the US. His integrity in defending America's most-hated man, leads him to be asked to lead a prisoner exchange by the CIA. Donovan is such a skilled negotiator that he ends up acquiring two American prisoners for the price of his Russian defendant – much to the CIA's surprise. The end credits inform us that Donovan went on to be a government negotiator and even organised the release of over 9,000 prisoners under Fidel Castro.

What do we learn?

It's really impossible to tell what someone might be capable of until you ask the impossible of them. Donovan felt continually out of his depth, but succeeded every single time because everyone else believed he could.

Compassion and integrity are two very important personality traits – Donovan upheld the US constitution in the face of the public, who would happily have sent the Russian spy to death without trial. 

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The Social Network

What's it about?

Otherwise known as, the conception of Facebook story. Facebook is the brainchild of Mark Zuckerberg and Napster co-founder, Sean Parker. However, it originated in Mark's bedroom as 'Facemash' – a revenge site he created to lash out at an ex-girlfriend in 2003.

What do we learn?

This film reinforces that paper skills aren't the be all and end all. Technically, Mark Zuckerberg and his team of college-dropouts are not great employees on paper – and yet they build and launch one of the biggest companies in the world. Project managers should ask around about someone's skill set to ascertain was isn't on paper and try to look beyond the obvious when hiring.

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Wolf Of Wall Street

What's it about?

Jordan Belfort's real life story of how he became one of the most influential stockbrokers of Wall Street. There's plenty of lavishness and bullish behaviour in the movie, but there are also some key project management lessons.

What do we learn?

The film focuses on Belfort, but also his partner Danny Porush. What's interesting is that they are complete and utter opposites. Belfort is strategic, long-term focused and alert whilst Porush is a rule enforcer, more short-sighted and relaxed. Diversity in a company makes for a good work environment. Instead of pitching similar employees against each other, select a team with varying skills that can support and learn from each other.

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Casino Royale

What's it about?

James Bond gets thrown into a poker tournament with the sole aim of beating a terrorist financier - Le Chiffre - and toppling his criminal organisation. It's risky move and is fraught with hiccups, including a poisoning attempt. Bond is also captured and tortured at one stage – but wins the tournament nevertheless.

What do we learn?

Aside from the plethora of tactical moves and clever science of 'tells' and reading people – Bond keeps returning to the poker table with a brave face on. Whilst being beaten by Le Chiffre, Bond insists he beats him properly and laughs. Project managers occasionally need to put a brave face on things and lead their team back to the drawing board again and again. Your enthusiasm in leadership will lead your team forward despite difficulties in the project. 

There's your weekend sorted. Whilst there are many many more movies that have strong project management lessons, this should be enough homework for now.

Enjoy studying.

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