What can Meghan & Harry teach us about project management?

The second Monday of March – so the 9th in 2020 – is Commonwealth Day. This is the day where the United Kingdom joins the other 54 members of the Commonwealth – namely Australia, New Zealand, Gibraltar and Canada – to celebrate the union between these countries. Of course then, one of the hot topics in the press ahead of 9 March is whether the Sussex Royal couple will attend Commonwealth Day celebrations here in England or not. Harry and Meghan’s journey from London newlyweds to young parents as ‘semi-royals’ in Canada has been a highly publicised and commented-upon one. Here at ROI (ή), however, we’re less concerned with what the tabloids are printing and more interested in the lessons those of us working in project management, especially in the public sector and the third sector, can learn from the royal couple’s colourful approach.

According to the Project Management Institute, a project is “a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.” It has defined scope and resources, is focused on accomplishing a singular goal, and often includes people who don’t usually work together sometimes from different organisations across multiple geographies. While perhaps not project managers by trade, Meghan and Harry are definitely familiar with these types of processes and certainly know a thing or two about working in teams of very varying backgrounds. From their massive royal wedding to their ultimate move to Canada, the pair has undertaken some massive life ‘projects’ and ‘programmes’, to say the least.

What can we learn from them?

1. Compromise is important

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle come from very different backgrounds – socially, geographically, ethnically, life experience-wise. Therefore, it’s likely that they may have very different ways of thinking and working, in addition to varying ideas about which project outcomes are more important than others. Let’s consider their royal wedding, for instance. It’s likely Harry may have envisioned a typically British affair for the occasion, no doubt influenced by those around him (ahem The Queen ahem!). Meghan, as a modern US citizen, perhaps wanted something more contemporary, while presumably wishing to incorporate elements of her own cultural background into the ceremony. Either way, Harry, Meghan and family members no doubt desired the same outcome: to be married in a joyous, glitch-free affair which would well publicise the royal family and Britain as a whole.

By these standards, the couple’s star-studded 2018 wedding was then no doubt a masterclass in project management. Notably, it demonstrated the importance of compromise in the project planning process.

The event was no doubt a ‘royal’ one – it was held in Windsor Castle, included all the typical religious elements and saw Meghan wear a stunning but conservative long-sleeved gown. It did, however, simultaneously defy usual tradition to include an address by an American African preacher of Meghan’s choosing, gospel singing of Ben E. King classic Stand by Me and even a very contemporary reception cake choice (ditching the usual white icing-coated fruitcake for a lemon and elderflower creation covered with buttercream and fresh flowers) which attendees no doubt enjoyed thoroughly!

Regardless of the above, the outcomes were achieved and the project was a success. In that, Harry and Meghan demonstrated to us something that excellent project managers are already well aware of – successful project management always includes a level of compromise.

Project teams and stakeholders, especially in the third and public sector, will inevitably always include individuals of varying backgrounds and with differing agendas. As such, a good project manager knows that, before anything else, the team must establish the most acceptable baseline across this diverging set of stakeholder expectations and priorities. As the Association for Project Management states:

“Stakeholders can often have different views about the same requirement of a project. You will need to navigate expectations amongst your stakeholder community to achieve a satisfactory solution that all parties are content to sign up to. This is a key function of requirements capture associated with the project management role.” Here, compromise couldn’t be more key. Your project will not succeed without it, just ask Harry and Meghan!

2. Sometimes things just don’t go to plan.

No matter how well a project is planned (we’d take a bet that Meghan is pretty meticulous in this regard!), sometimes things go a little sideways. Not everything in life can be forecast or foreseen. Likewise, mistakes can be made. Team members are human. You may end up needing to alter your plans – and good project managers understand this and know how to do so without jeopardising the project’s success.

Excellent project managers will have already accounted for contingencies or additional unplanned needs in the original budget. If this wasn’t done or something really unexpected has happened, a proactive PM will have the know-how required to find other efficiencies in the project to make up the difference. This is where a seasoned manager becomes apparent because he or she will see the problem, adjust for it, and keep the project moving towards completion – hopefully without requiring a drastic change to the plan, such as a move to Canada!

Before hiring a project manager, testing them with a mock PM ‘disaster’ scenario could be a very wise idea.

3. You need a robust and adaptable comms plan

The media can be brutal. Those of us working in the likes of local government and charities know this all too well. So do Harry and Meghan. The poor couple, and in particular Harry’s better half, was hounded relentlessly by British tabloids from the beginning of their relationship and even more so as their courtship and marriage progressed. Just like teams in the public sector, the pair were limited in what they could do and say in response to the media’s treatment of them. They did attempt to counteract negative media coverage with their own proactive media work e.g. through their ‘Harry and Meghan: An American Journey’ documentary, to varying degrees of success. What can we learn from M & H’s approach?

  • Time and resources must be allocated to reactive media relations. If public money is involved, the media will be relentless. You need a great comms plan and experienced press office professionals on your side, no exceptions.
  • Proactive media work is equally if not more important. How can your team show their side of their story and work towards drowning out the negative voices, without relying on journalists running your press releases? Social media is the big one here. With their personal Sussex Royal Instagram account, which Meghan is rumoured to run herself, the royal couple were able to promote their charity endeavours to a mass audience. Indeed, it has proved to be a roaring success. The account even set a Guinness World Record for reaching 1 million followers faster than any other IG account in history, in 5 hours and 45 minutes. Note: Jennifer Aniston has since beat that record!
  • Accountability is key. You need to be prepared to answer all the difficult questions from the get-go as someone will, at some point, ask them. Transparency and accountability are crucial, in all things, but especially when it comes to media relations. Knowing the answers prior to them being asked will save your team a lot of stress down the line.

4. Prioritising mental health is always crucial

Following H & M’s decision to ditch England for greener pastures in Canada, the Internet declared the term ‘Meghan Markle’ a verb, past tense, meaning: “to value yourself and your mental health enough to up and leave a room/ situation/ environment in which your authentic self is not welcomed or wanted.” For example: “I’m considering Meghan Markling at work: they haven’t given me a raise in two years.”

Now while this point doesn’t apply specifically to PM itself, we think it’s always a good time to reinforce the importance of mental health awareness in both life and the workplace. Your people are your best assets. You’ve got to value them, in sickness and in health!

From the team here at  ROI (ή), we wish the (kind of) royal couple and their little Archie all the best on their new life in Canada.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lee Tobin, Marketing Expert

Lee is a professional storyteller. She uses a storybook approach to emotively communicate your organisation’s core messages to your target audience. She especially loves social media and believes that comms should always be bold.