6 Project Management Lessons from Fantastic Four that Guarantee Project Failure

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Let’s be honest here for a second: We can all admit that not every project is going to be a winner. Sometimes you put in a ton of effort, spend hours detailing every task, and making sure your budget is in check. Despite that, the end result still isn’t something to be proud of. And don’t worry, everyone makes mistakes, and there were plenty to go around in this summer’s super flop, Fantastic Four

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As poorly acted and written as the film was, it provided us with teachable lessons. Read on to find the six project management lessons that guarantee project failure, as demonstrated by Fantastic Four.

1. Don’t pick winners for your team.

Which actor has two thumbs, a crooked nose, and a revealing expose in Esquire that concludes he’s “kind of a d***?” Oh, it’s only the star of Fantastic Four, Miles Teller. He’s a hot shot Hollywood superstar with the aspirations of Brando and Pacino combined with the acting ability of a wrench.

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But he wasn’t the only superdiva. Kate Mara never read the Fantastic Four comics under the direction of director Josh Trank. Toby Kebbell was happy to talk to the press about his role as Doctor Doom—along with full movie spoilers—nine months before the movie was released. And then there’s the director himself, who battled with studio heads over his film’s vision. Publicly.

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Takeaways: Any project manager knows that having a solid team is at the heart of any successful project. Select your team members wisely… and don’t be afraid to request personnel changes if there is a need.

2. Allow no opportunity for feedback between team members and project managers.

If someone on your team has something to say, who cares? From feedback to criticism to constructive suggestions, communication suffered on the set of Fantastic Four. According to sources speaking with Collider, Josh Trank’s issues between himself and 20th Century Fox became so heated that the director was locked out of the editing room, leaving no opportunity for feedback or cooperation between the two parties.

Takeaways: Naturally, project managers may be tempted to lock certain team members out of meetings or scrap their projects altogether, but everyone knows that actually doing so can only end in project disaster.

To avoid this, use project management software designed to help with communication. Several tools aimed at fostering communication include Asana, Zoho Projects, and Wrike. Then consider these more in-depth guides to interacting with difficult team members and stakeholders.

3. Make your project’s vision indecipherable. Do not communicate it unless it’s on a “need to know” basis.

The only thing that people in this world love more than free Chipotle, three-day weekends, and secretly singing along with Taylor Swift in the car is doing a job with no decipherable vision. Sources revealed that three days before filming, 20th Century Fox informed Trank that they were removing three action sequences which changed the entire narrative of the film. Trank was forced to come up with a way to connect a series of now unconnected scenes with little time before filming was supposed to begin.

Sadly, even with Trank’s best efforts, audiences still found little reason to care about a nerdy scientist who now had the power to stretch his arms and become a superhero.

Takeaways: There were several moving parts to the development of the Fantastic Four movie, including budget, hiring decision, special effects, filming, story, and relatability to canon. Several of these moving pieces could have been developed at the same time, provided there was ample opportunity for communication between different teams.

Use Gantt charts to lay out essential tasks and timelines. Make sure that the right team members are tagged to their projects so they can be made aware of any major updates that will affect them. (Don’t let them hang until the last three days.)

4. Set the worst example possible.

Imagine yourself being the director of what hopes to be the resurgence of a popular comic superhero franchise, what would you do? Would you show up to work on time? Would you conduct yourself in a professional manner on the set? Would you be communicative and considerate to the actors, screenwriters, and production assistants?

If you answered no to any of these questions, then you might be the director of Fantastic Four.

Sources speaking with The Hollywood Reporter claimed that Trank acted erratic on the set and off-putting towards cast members. He and his dogs also reportedly caused $100,000 in damages to the Louisiana property he was living in.

Sources who have seen both the film and the mess Trank left in the home told news outlets that making a choice “between viewing the film and visiting the mess his dogs made didn’t matter, they both were the same thing anyways.” They also clarified: “One of them won’t charge you $10 to get in.”

Takeaways: We’ve written a lot about the importance of servant leadership when managing a project. The project manager’s first priority, beyond the project itself, is making sure that his or her team members are on track and happy. That means first looking within and making sure that any actions that you are taking aren’t hurting your team’s productivity.

5. Ignore risk management: only focus on short-term profits.

Where there is risk, there is reward. But when you disregard risk, reward is front and center in project planning.  

After removing key scenes days before filming, and having weeks of re-shoots, one crew member told The Hollywood Reporter, “Fox hurried to put the project into production before rights to the material reverted to Marvel, the studio was scrambling with multiple rewrites and delays in starting the film. They were afraid of losing the rights so they pressed forward and didn’t surround [Trank] with help or fire him. They buried their heads in the sand.”

Takeaways: Risk management is the identification, assessment, and prioritization of risks in order to minimize or eliminate them.

If you’re not looking into what could go wrong with your project and how you could mitigate those risks, your project is set for doom. Refer to our guide to risk management to learn how to best prevent and manage common project dangers, like changing priorities, unrealistic schedules, and personnel changes.

6. Ignore your stakeholders’ feedback on your final product.

According to Hollywood Reporter, director Josh Trank sent an email to some members of the cast and crew stating that their version of Fantastic Four was “better than 99% of the comic books ever made.”

One cast member responded to him with “I don’t think so.”

By failing to take stakeholder feedback like this into account, Trank and Fox ended up with a movie that got a lower rating on Rotten Tomatoes than even Shaquille O’Neil superhero film Steel.

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Did you know basketball star Shaquille O’Neil was even in a superhero film?

Takeaways: At the end of the day, project managers need to please stakeholders. Their criticism and expectations matter. Be sure to identify and prioritize the right stakeholders, be realistic in your endeavors and don’t overpromise, and have a formal communication plan in place.

There is too often a real temptation for a project manager to take a project into his or her capable hands and ignore the feedback of those who have a stake in the project.

It’s not worth it. Stick to what your stakeholders need, or you’re set for a fantastic failure of your own.

More?

What did you take away from the Fantastic Four movie? Do you think you could have managed the movie better than the individuals involved? Was there a “lesson” that I missed? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

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Rachel Burger

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Rachel is a former Capterra analyst who covered project management.

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Great points here. Might have to go see Fantastic Four – it seems like I could learn a lot about our industry!

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