[Spoilers below, obviously]
Every project manager has been through an operation that seemed to have the fate of the world on the line.
And as important as the summer update for your company’s app seemed at the time, imagine how the condemned crew of the Covenant felt in Alien: Covenant, the latest entry in Ridley Scott’s Alien saga.
Not only were they tasked with transporting 2,000 colonists and 1,000 embryos to a friendly planet across the universe, they had to contend with deadly neutrino bursts, haywire androids, black goo, and—of course—acid-bleeding, face-hugging, flesh-rending xenomorphs.
5 deadly project management failures in Alien: Covenant
Even with all of those otherworldly pitfalls, though, the crew of the Covenant could have clearly done a better job of avoiding the blatant project management failures that derailed their mission—and the proliferation of the human race—in Alien: Covenant.
Read on to see what I mean.
1. Failure to mitigate risk
You would think that by the year 2104, almost everyone would have had time to learn the basic horror movie precautions outlined in Scream:
- Don’t “fool around.” Especially in a shower with loud music playing, and even more especially when there are aliens on the loose.
- Don’t drink or do drugs, even if you’re toasting a lost comrade. You’ll need your wits about you when you’re being stalked by one of the galaxy’s ultimate predators (apologies to the actual Predators; they’re tough, but not quite at xenomorph level).
- Don’t say “I’ll be right back.” Whether your relieving yourself, stretching your legs, or having a smoke, you won’t be making it “right back.”
Those rules don’t even mention some of the Covenant crew’s other gaffes, like exploring a strange planet without any type of pathogen-filtering masks, or failing to quarantine a violently ill crew-mate.
The PM lesson: Every project should begin with a kick-off meeting to outline the goals and identify potential risks. After all, risk management is an incredibly important part of project management. For example, the crew could have come up with a basic contingency plan. That way, when the inevitable setbacks occurred, the team would have been prepared to deal with them rather than wildly spraying hot lead at their escape ship’s fuel tanks.
2. Failure to be agile
When the Covenant ran into a neutrino burst that killed their Captain, Jake Branson, and about 50 hibernating colonists, it would’ve been a good opportunity to take a deep breath, gather the team, and decide together how they would respond to this major setback. Instead, first mate Chris Oram impetuously decides to ditch on the nearest habitable planet despite the concerns of his crew, including Branson’s widow, Daniels.
Daniels: “Are you sure about this, Captain?”
Oram: “How do you mean?”
Daniels: “We don’t know what the f***’s out there.”
The PM lesson: Good project management requires frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans. Bullishly pushing forward as the world collapses around you and warning klaxons blare is a recipe for project failure, or the annihilation of the human race.
3. Failure to choose the right tools
As the android David tells his counterpart, Walter, “Every mission needs a good synthetic.”
In other words, every project needs adequate software.
The Covenant had one android to interface with the its main computer, Mother, in addition to serving as the lone night watchman for a crew of 15, plus thousands of colonists and embryos in hyper-sleep. When disaster struck, this setup was woefully inadequate. Why not add a second synthetic, or heck, even a third? Could the Weyland Corporation, with its hundreds of trillions of dollars (space credits?), not find room in the budget for such an important mission?
Also, where was the bug testing and antivirus software for David? Like, I don’t know, maybe the programmers could have run a few rounds of A/B testing to try to prevent their indestructible robo-god from playing Dr. Frankenstein with any hyper-evolved killing demons that he comes across.
The PM lesson: In the olden days, project managers needed to choose tools like protractors and drafting boards to oversee their projects. Today, smartphones and apps help with the heavy lifting when it comes to things like planning, communication, and time tracking, and any PM who fails to use those resources is at a major disadvantage. Ripley’s deployment of the Power Loader in Aliens, now THAT was a good use of resources.
4. Failure to find strong leadership
Who knows what protocol was in place to make Oram second-in-command, but it may have been the single greatest misstep that led to the Covenant’s failure. Oram stammered through his kick-off meeting, flip-flopped and waffled on crucial decisions, and showed utter lack of discretion at the most critical moments.
Like, for example, when a glitched out cyborg led him by the hand into a dank cave and invited him to closely examine the gaping maw of a swollen, pulsating egg. Or the time that he brushed off the pleas of his terrified (and equally hapless) wife to return to the landing ship when all hell was breaking loose.
The PM lesson: Don’t let Oram lead your project. Good project managers listen to their team, communicate clearly, and act decisively on decisions. Or, you could find a leader like the xenomorph Queen, who directs the team telepathically from the safe protection of the hive.
5. Failure to communicate with the team
As Walter points out to David in Alien: Covenant, “One wrong note eventually ruins the entire symphony.”
And as the crew of the Covenant demonstrates, a cacophony of communication miscues ruins a simple mission to save humankind. It started when Oram’s wishy-washy directives led the crew into the alien’s breeding grounds, continued when everyone split off into small groups without telling each other what they were doing (poking and prodding the flora), and reached a crescendo when Daniels failed to communicate with the synthetic running the ship before being tucked away helplessly into suspended animation.
The PM lesson: It all comes down to communication. From the kickoff meeting to the successful delivery of the final product, clear communication throughout the project is what makes everything go. If your team isn’t talking, it’s game over, man.
What did you think of Alien: Covenant? Was it a triumphant return to the franchise’s roots, or a tired patchwork of worn out cliches? I want to hear your thoughts, and what project management lessons you saw in the story, so please let me know in the comments!
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