Warning: This post contains spoilers.
Like all well-spun stories, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” was entertaining, humorous, and, according to Screen Rant’s News Editor, host to a number of characters that were, “equally likable and believable in their respective roles.”
Unlike the Spider-Man movies released in 2002 and 2012, “Homecoming” is not the traditional Spider-Man origin story. It starts with Spider-Man as an already established superhero, set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Spider-Man—or mild-mannered Peter Parker—has become a student of Iron Man’s after fighting with him in Berlin. Spider-Man wants more responsibility, but Iron Man turns him down. Then, when Spider-Man discovers a group of men selling illegal alien weapons, led by Vulture, he ends up facing them alone.
When Capterra’s project management expert, Rachel, sent us on a “research” mission for this blog post, we were skeptical about the idea that a Marvel movie could have any valuable project management takeaways—but we couldn’t turn down a free movie ticket.
But watching Spider-Man take down Vulture alone and without the right tools to assist him, we collectively came to a realization: Through Spider-Man’s struggles with both Iron Man, who has essentially become his manager and his own personal journey to become a superhero, the movie revealed many important project management lessons.
Don’t think so? Here are our top five project management lessons from “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
1. Clearly state work responsibilities and project impact up front
After fighting in Berlin, Spider-Man has returned to New York City with little fanfare or instruction. Excited for more adventure, he repeatedly tries to contact Iron Man for further instruction.
When he finally succeeds months later, he’s told to forget being an Avenger; focus on just being a “friendly neighborhood” Spider-Man. Instead of fighting aliens, Spider-Man is stuck taking care of small things such as bicycle robberies and helping little old ladies navigate the streets of New York.
Bored with the mundanity of his life, Spider-Man starts investigating some serious criminal behavior on his own.
Iron Man arrives in New York City to warn Spider-Man off the case because he knows the teenage superhero isn’t ready. Spider-Man has little formal training, he doesn’t watch the tutorial on his suit mechanics, and he hasn’t yet fought any major villains on his own. Yet, he refuses to listen to Iron Man’s advice.
How this applies to project management
You’ve probably seen this kind of behavior at your company; a disgruntled junior employee turns “desperado” in search of recognition and responsibility. Some might seek out big opportunities themselves while others might lose the motivation while waiting.
So, how can project managers keep team members engaged and on task throughout a project? One strategy is to clearly communicate each member’s work responsibilities and project impact up front.
At the beginning of a project, project managers should hold a meeting solely focused on assigning roles and responsibilities. Take the time to explain how every task is important to the project’s bottom line, and team members are less likely to ignore project guidelines and work on their own.
Every member wants to feel like they’re contributing to the overall project, after all, so managers must clearly communicate how even the smallest of tasks help.
In other words, not like this:
See Spider-Man’s confused expression? Iron Man’s advice is way too vague and leaves too much open to subjective interpretation.
Instead, focus on being clear, concise, and concrete. Like Captain America in his public service announcements (sorry, Iron Man.)
- At the beginning of a project, be clear about individual responsibility and clearly communicate the impact of their work to the entire project.
- If you’ve spoken clearly about roles and responsibilities, but one team member is still resisting, it’s possible that they’re the problem. Talk to them individually, and if that doesn’t work, you might need to take more consequential steps.
2. Don’t skip a thorough onboarding
If Spider-Man doesn’t know how to use his webs, is he still Spider-Man or just a weird guy wearing a weird red suit?
To fight against Vulture and his team, Spider-Man hacks into his suit to unlock new protocols. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work out too well for him.
Because he hasn’t used the advanced settings before, Spider-Man struggles during the fight, trying to both communicate with the new AI, Karen, and trying to use the hundreds of different web features.
What’s worse—he’d actually had the chance to learn about them but ended up skipping the tutorial because he wanted to get the bad guys immediately.
Spider-Man survived the fight, but his behavior would be a signal to any project manager that a member of their team was too hasty.
How this applies to project management
An “act first, think later” attitude can carry risks such as resource damage, strained relationships, technical problems, and even legal issues for the entire team.
How can you avoid that problem?
First, you have a killer kick-off meeting whenever a project begins.
If a new member joins a project already in progress, be ready to hit them with quick but thorough onboarding. Onboarding is the best opportunity to quickly get a new team member up-to-date on what the project is and what resources they have available.
New members need to know the scope, the impact, and the rules for the project. Thorough efforts to get new members acclimated will prevent both misunderstandings and overexcited team members who can put the project at risk.
- Before assigning tasks to new team members, provide a thorough list of the tools they already have available to them. Explain where to find those tools and how to use them when needed.
- Let your team know that you can always answer questions they may still have after their onboarding. Don’t make them feel hesitant about asking for clarification.
3. Be a mentor for your team members, not a coach
In the Spider-Man comics, Spider-Man doesn’t actually become a hero until he sees his Uncle Ben die from a mugging that could have been prevented. In “Homecoming,” on the other hand, Spider-Man’s motivation to become a hero comes from his relationship with Iron Man.
After all, Iron Man is the one who recruits Spider-Man to fight with the Avengers in “Captain America: Civil War,” and he’s the one who gives Spider-Man the classic suit.
Once Spider-Man returns to New York City, however, he feels ignored and as though he’s not being used his full potential as a hero, so he unlocks the suit’s full capabilities without permission and goes off to fight serious crime himself.
With no plan, of course, everything goes wrong, and Iron Man shows up and fixes Spider-Man’s mistake.
Afterward, Iron Man takes away Spider-Man’s suit. He says: “If you are nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it.”
Having the suit taken away from him makes Spider-Man realize being a hero isn’t about glory, but the people he was trying to save. Iron Man’s tough love is what gives Spider-Man strength in the climax of the movie, with nothing but his heart and his red hoodie.
How this applies to project management
This makes us think of how managers can push their team members to do better.
Project managers need to learn soft skills to motivate their teams. Observe the team dynamic and know how to push individuals to get work done faster and better—without alienating them. Different team members require different approaches, and taking the extra step to learn how they work will only help the project and the team.
The movie also illustrates how important it is for project managers—or any leader—to regularly communicate with their team members. And we don’t mean just asking when the task will be done. We mean asking how they feel about the work they’re doing and asking if they would like help.
Doing so will encourage team members to come to their manager of their own volition when they need support or advice.
That said, this project management lesson isn’t an invitation to overwhelm your team with constant requests for status updates. No one wants to feel over-controlled.
Prioritize mentorship, not coaching. Give your team members autonomy, and they will want to perform to the best of their ability. Project managers can create a culture of trust by talking candidly about problems without needlessly assigning blame.
- Use status meetings as a time to check in with your team members and give them the support they need.
- Talk to you team members to learn their strengths and weaknesses, and use what you learn to effectively motivate them.
- Create a culture of trust, not blame. In other words, treat team members like adults.
4. Encourage communication and collaboration among team members
Behind every great superhero is an equally great “guy in the chair.” They’re the ones who stay behind during a fight, swiveling between four or five computer screens, giving the heroes all the information they need to succeed.
For Spider-Man, his Q also doubles as his best friend, Ned. Ned helps him throughout the movie and even saves his life. Their friendship is honest and heartwarming, but their ability to work together when the situation gets serious is even stronger. (Nothing says “teamwork” like defeating an arms dealer one day and building a Lego Death Star the next.)
Team projects are all about working together to deliver the final product, preferably in the least explosive way possible.
Team members need to be able to work together peacefully and productively for the project to move forward, which isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Managers should encourage team members to be kind to each other because a little niceness can go a long way in making the project enjoyable.
- Effective communication is the foundation of great teamwork. Project managers should facilitate the communication process among team members and resolve conflicts as soon as they arise.
- Make sure every team member understands what the project objectives are. And, make sure they all recognize why teamwork is necessary to complete them.
5. Trust your tech
Most movie and comic fans know that Iron Man is only a superhero because of his super brain; he doesn’t have powers, just a lot of money and technology he built himself.
In “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” he builds a suit for Spider-Man. It’s outfitted with hundreds of different types of webbing, goggles that can see through walls, and an AI—arguably an AI project manager—named Karen.
Technology is what makes Iron Man a superhero and what helps Spider-Man reach his potential (while looking as cool as possible).
How this applies to project management
Project managers need to trust their tools, including their project management software, to do the same.
It might not give you the ability to fly, but it will give you the means to easily communicate with your team and assign them tasks. With technology like that, any project manager would feel like a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.
But, it’s important to remember that project management software can’t—and shouldn’t—do everything for you.
The third act of the movie begins with Iron Man taking Spider-Man’s new suit from him, forcing Spider-Man to fight Vulture in nothing but jeans and a red hoodie. Spider-Man prevails because he’s still a hero, even without a high-flying, parachute-deploying super suit.
A project manager doesn’t need software tools to be a great manager, they just make the most stressful parts of a project easier. Anyone can create a Kanban board using dozens of sticky notes, though, most people find it easier just to use an online version.
- Project management software can make organizing the moving parts of a project much easier.
- Project management software is a tool, not a management guru that can make any project an instant success.
What other project management lessons did we miss?
How did you like “Spider-Man: Homecoming”? Anything that you think is related to project management?
Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
Can’t get enough project management in pop culture? Check out these articles:
- 37 Project Management Movies That You Should Watch Twice
- 10 Project Management Lessons from Guardians of the Galaxy
- 8 Project Management Lessons from Avengers: Age of Ultron
- 5 Project Management Habits That Guarantee Project Failure, As Told By ‘The Lego Movie’
- 5 Project Management Failures That Doomed The Human Race In Alien: Covenant
Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.