Medieval Project Management is actually a real thing to learn about

Staffing solutions is a major part of project management. Internal staff, low-cost staff augmentation, consulting project teams, embedded consultants, employees other duties as assigned, employee working groups, employee standing teams, consulting advisors. All these solutions help address gaps in individual skillsets by bringing others strengths.

The reactions and solutions in “Handling delays on Internal Projects due to skill gaps” help address bringing in consultants and focus on the timing being right-sized and with very clear defined lines. This actually goes back a long ways, to the initial western world village-sized projects. Now urban center feats are well-documented large enterprise projects efforts and were done typically with a fair-amount of dictatorship. But agrarian or travel towns did not have such authority, resources. Smaller kingdoms completely relied on advancing barracks, granaries, resource production, city walls, and maintaining people in the kingdom to advance –both for the security of the city, but being honest, the advancement of the monarchy.

There are actually several books on “Medieval Project Management” (i.e. here) that goes into how kingdom projects were managed – both fair and beloved kingdoms and ruthless or poor kingdoms.

Here is an example, which illustrates one thing – not much has changed in the staff management aspects:

A well-liked king has a goal to build a moat and bigger drawbridge to allow both larger carts to come in and out of the town, while allowing for protection against marauders. The townspeople have never built this before and certainly not to this complexity. The king knows of another town where it has been done before and suggests to bring in this help.

The townspeople say “we can do it”. The king knows loyalty is a prime asset, and completing a project, with townspeople at work creates just that. The townspeople, unfortunately, struggle with designing to the new scale and has spent more than anticipated, and nothing is yet built nor designed to work.

The king, recalling loyalty is key, doubles-down, but attempts to buy back risk by saying he will bring an advisor in.  The townspeople once again say “we can do it ourselves”. The king takes this risk and approves the project without delay. Delays continue, and once again time and money from the coffers pass.

The king noting they are very far behind, and other towns now have competing sized bridges and moats, now says lets bring in an advisor and a designer who recently finished these projects, but you can still be proud by building the bridge. The townspeople say “we can do it, we just need more time, we almost have it figured out, we need more townspeople”. The king now irritated, knowing loyalty is a major asset, once again reluctantly delays, as now half the town is involved in the project.

Unfortunately, a year has gone by without a new bridge. The marketplace is stagnant, other towns are growing, jobs in the town are now stagnant, and the king knows he can wait no longer. Now, the townspeople are angry they are overworked as they have to work more to make enough.

The king final says, I have now paid the others to take over the project, we cannot wait any longer. The king could resort to heavy penalties, but with half the town, and buried deep, any swift hard actions could result in revolt. Instead, he issues a stern decree, citing their failure, and he has now turned the project over, and the costs are now quadrupled (original costs doubled by failure, plus a double-cost rush order from outsiders and the king must now provide extra protection and oversight for the outsiders to just get started)

The townspeople did not say “well, he gave us a chance” and we were gainfully employed. The townspeople were not thankful for the work on an incomplete job. Instead, the idea of a new marketplace is at an all-time low (though all other towns are flourishing with the new marketplace). The townspeople spread rumors of any sign of delays, weakness, or possible conspiracy or even sabotage. The king must spend time mending the townspeople’s now unruly position.

The project is finished, quadruple costs, double the time, and unfortunately, economically, the shift has occurred. The townspeople decide to uproot and go to the next town anyhow as they heard about how their marketplace is bustling with new jobs and goods as they were able to complete the new wider drawbridge that this king couldn’t and the kingdom goes into dark times trying to recover.

Not much has changed from medieval times in corporate cultures. Balancing the culture health of the company is a big deal. The perception that happy employees produce 1.5-5x as much as unhappy employs is slightly true. But it is not about happiness. Note the story talks about the townspeople wanting to accomplish a big project and would be proud, and the kingdom would expand, and townspeople would be loyal and thankful. Happiness was not in there.

But, the townspeople also had a lack of vision. The king gave a major contract to an untrained, demanding union with a sales pitch of the low price of loyalty, and technically we have done it before. Without a measuring device to objectively allow pulling the contract back, the contract modifications continued, and the king was now all-in.

The king can take the risk on such a contract award – The king did not ask for an initial task to prove their merit. The king did not treat the award of the project to his own people like the award of a performance-based contract to outsiders.

Conclusion: Any project you budget for, award it and set the measures for success whether it is done by your staff or outsider consulting team contract.

All projects require milestones (another medieval term continued from Roman times), clear objectives to guide quality levels and deliverables for scope and some semblance of budget and resource management (whether it is time and materials with a not to exceed, or fixed-time, fixed-price phases).

The similarities are the same – the project failure was not the townspeople. Just like the project success is on the king, or the executive, the decisions on project staffing are on the executive. Take that measured initial risk, but if metrics are showing clear, you need to adjust, using the agreed measure failure as the guidance to approve the switch.