Napoleon on Project Management: Timeless Lessons in Planning, Execution, and Leadership

Napoleon on Project Management: Timeless Lessons in Planning, Execution, and Leadership

by Jerry Manas


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Napoleon on Project Management: Timeless Lessons in Planning, Execution, and Leadership by Jerry Manas

What is it about Napoleon Bonaparte that has led recognized leaders such as General George S. Patton to study his principles-and countless books on management and leadership to quote his maxims? What lessons can today's project managers and leaders learn from Napoleon's successes and failures?

Napoleon on Project Management explores the key principles behind Napoleon's successes, the triggers that led to his downfall, and the lessons to be learned from his ultimate demise-and applies these lessons to modern-day project management and leadership at all levels.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781595552433
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 10/14/2008
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

A certified Project Management Professional, Jerry Manas has provided project management, team building, training, and product development services to the Information Technology sector for international Fortune 500 companies. He and his teams have received awards for numerous projects, including a global Y2K conversion project as well as acquisition and divestiture projects. He also contributed his leadership expertise to a multi-national Euro Currency Conversion Project.

Manas is on the Board of Directors for PMI's Aerospace and Defense Specific Interest Group (SIG), is co-founder of PMThink! Project Management Thought Leadership (, and is a contributor to several of PMI's international standards, including the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3) and the upcoming standards for program and portfolio management.

Read an Excerpt


Timeless Lessons in Planning, Execution, and Leadership
By Jerry Manas

Nelson Business

Copyright © 2007 Jerry Manas
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7852-1285-0

Chapter One

The Skills to Succeed

My business is to succeed, and I'm good at it. I create my Iliad by my actions, create it day by day. -Napoleon

Napoleon Bonaparte perhaps achieved more objectives with amazing success than anyone else in history. He undertook an effort to bring order to France in a time of postrevolutionary chaos. He led numerous battles and continuously emerged victorious, often against larger armies. He rose from relative obscurity to become the ruler of all Western Europe in but a few years, using an army that had never before achieved such greatness. He implemented efforts to build alliances, eventually increasing his army to an unprecedented six hundred thousand strong. He created a civil code that is still in use and provided the inspiration for many civil codes worldwide.

It is through countless documents and memoirs, written by Napoleon and many others, that we get a sense of what made Napoleon so successful. As a result, we can gain a good understanding of the methods that brought him such success and the skills that made him rise above the pack. And it is these same skills that will make us successful in our organizations today. Let's begin by examining the skills Napoleon viewed as essential for any leader-particularly as they apply to project management.


The formal title of "project manager" is not required to benefit from project management lessons. On the contrary, anyone who must lead an endeavor-whether as a CEO, a sports coach, a film director, or any other type of leader-can benefit from these universal lessons. So, when we refer to project managers, we are referring to all leaders who choose to manage their efforts as "projects." And, according to today's experts, ranging from Tom Peters to the Gartner Group, management-by-projects is the surest path to achieving organizational (and yes, even personal) goals. The lessons from Napoleon's rise and fall can show us how to be successful with this approach both in our organizations and in our personal lives.

As our journey progresses, we will explore how Napoleon rose to power, how he grew his empire as much through shrewd diplomacy as through victories in battle, and how he lost it all with several costly mistakes-mistakes that many of us make in our daily working lives. We will examine the Six Winning Principles that guided Napoleon to repeated success, and look at case studies detailing where he went wrong. But first, we will begin with the basics, as Napoleon walks us through his philosophies on leadership. In this way, we will build a solid foundation before embarking on our journey. Following are excerpts from Napoleon's memoirs, written as he contemplated the abilities and values that he felt made him successful: developing solid skills, such as a good memory and knowledge of mathematics; upholding key values, such as calmness and predictability; being visible to those you lead; and understanding the nature of politics.

A Good Memory

A singular thing about me is my memory. As a boy, I knew the logarithms of thirty or forty numbers; in France, I not only knew the names of the officers of all the regiments, but also where the corps had been recruited, had distinguished themselves; I even knew their spirit.

Napoleon knew, as do most modern salespeople, that a good memory is critical in building relationships. The best salespeople not only know their customers' names, but know their customers' family members' names, their likes, dislikes, hobbies, and any other bits of information that help build a relationship. Using the same approach, a project manager can develop better relationships with stakeholders, project team members, peers, and management.

A good memory is also valuable for team selection-for example, remembering certain nuances about individuals that would make them more or less valuable at one task or another. Remembering people's past successes in general is important. All too often, managers judge people by only their most recent activity, ignoring all of their past accomplishments and capabilities. It is also critical to remember the factors that motivate each individual, as each person's needs may be different.

Remembering things about people is only one benefit of having a good memory. Another is the ability to remember the small details that can make or break a project-for example, some obscure fact that may come back to cause havoc later. The saying "The devil is in the details" holds true when talking about project management. Napoleon perused relevant data and detailed reports from the field daily (and often throughout the night). It is to his credit that he was able to recall these small details on a moment's notice, often giving the impression of spontaneous ingenuity.

An area that most project managers ignore is the art of making presentations. Building memory skills can go a long way toward avoiding the overused crutch of PowerPoint. There is nothing worse than making a presentation with your back to the audience and reading bullets from a slide projection-other than perhaps having to sit through such a presentation. A good presentation should appear natural and energetic, with tools like PowerPoint slides used as props to illustrate key points through meaningful graphics, rather than the presenter merely narrating bullets the audience can read for themselves-although handouts should always be provided. A presentation should be built on a good memory and should avoid the overuse of notes and bulleted slides.

Perhaps Peter Norvig's humorous parody of Abraham Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address as a PowerPoint presentation illustrates this point best ( Norvig is the Director of Search Quality at Google, Inc., and a fellow and councilor of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. His parody is included as part of Edward Tufte's course on information presentation.

So, how can you improve upon your memory and utilize it as efficiently as possible throughout all these activities? Today, people try all kinds of things to improve their memories, from herbal remedies to mental exercises. Probably the best way to remember things is to use the association method, since we all tend to remember things by associating them with something-usually a word or a visual cue. In effect, by doing this, we are subconsciously building bridges in our minds between the cues and the memory associations.

Another method that helps solidify things in our minds is repetition-which is the reason actors and singers learn their lines by endless practice, and the reason advertisements use jingles and catchphrases. Through association and repetition, we can remember key facts that would otherwise be lost to oblivion.

Even with the above methods, there is no reason to leave things to chance when you can simply write something down, even if it's a small "trigger" key word, assuming you remember to look at what you've written. Today, we have all sorts of tools for keeping track of things, from appointment books to Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). In addition to calendars and to-do lists, all PDAs come with a memo section that is invaluable for capturing notes about people, projects, ideas, or anything else you may need to recall at a moment's notice. Of course, when you are giving a presentation, it is ideal not to rely on the use of notes, but index cards with brief trigger words are quite acceptable. It is hard to dispute that a good memory can do well to serve any leader, whether in business or otherwise, and fortunately there are many tools and techniques that can help.

The Power of Mathematics

To be a good general, a man must know mathematics; it is of daily help in straightening one's ideas. Perhaps I owe my success to my mathematical conceptions; a general must never imagine things; that is the most fatal of all. My great talent, the thing that marks me most, is that I see things clearly; it is the same with my eloquence, for I can distinguish what is essential in a question from every angle.

Mathematics probably isn't high on most project managers' and leaders' lists of important skills to build. Yet, almost all phases of a project-project selection, task estimates, risk analysis, decision making during project execution, and so forth-require some sort of mathematical skills.

For project selection, knowledge of return on investment (ROI), the internal rate of return (IRR), and other selection techniques is essential. For cost estimates, it is important to calculate costs accurately, including variations based on risk factors. For quality analysis, it is critical to understand statistical sampling and control charts. For proper decision making, it is important to understand risk probability and have the ability to perform decision-tree analysis. Planning should not be based on hunches, but, as much as possible, on calculations and actual facts.

During project execution, you should be able to calculate where you should be versus where you are in terms of budget and schedule. A tool such as Earned Value Management can help you determine this as early as 15 percent into the project. A good book on this is Earned Value Project Management, by Quentin W. Fleming and Joel M. Koppelman.

For all of these needs-since many of us are not armchair mathematicians-it's useful to keep a list of handy calculations and algorithms, most of which are included in any Project Management Professional (PMP) exam study guide. A couple of good ones that include all the calculations a project manager would need, among other tools and techniques vital to any project manager, are: PMP Exam Prep (4th edition), by Rita Mulcahy; and Preparing for the Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification Exam (2nd edition), by Michael W. Newell. Type the most useful calculations into your PDA or notebook, and you will be well equipped for success.

As Napoleon so astutely pointed out, a great leader cannot underestimate the value of building the mathematical skills necessary to make proper decisions, whether selecting, planning, or executing a project. Facts and calculated estimates are always better than guesses and hunches.

Staying Cool and Collected

The first qualification in a general-in-chief is a cool head-that is, a head which receives just impressions, and estimates things and objects at their real value. He must not allow himself to be elated by good news, or depressed by bad. The impressions he receives ... should be so classified as to take up only the exact place in his mind that they deserve to occupy; since it is upon a just comparison and consideration of the weight due to different impressions that the power of reasoning and of right judgment depends ... I could listen to intelligence of the death of my wife, of my son, or all of my family, without a change of feature. Not the slightest sign of emotion, or alteration of countenance, would be visible. Everything would appear indifferent and calm. But when alone in my room, then I suffer. Then the feelings of the man burst forth.

Napoleon was often surprisingly candid in his memoirs, such as in this case, revealing how he suffered internally while appearing cool and collected to others. He often spoke of this as a necessary trait for a great leader. This is an extreme example and probably a great exaggeration, but the point is that a leader cannot appear vulnerable to subordinates-or worse yet, unpredictable. People do not trust a leader who is inconsistent, irrational, or weak.

It is important for the leader to show strength and confidence if problems arise, either with the project or with some external factor that could impact the team or the leader. Nothing can unravel a team more quickly than a leader who overreacts or becomes disillusioned. That is not to say the leader should display false bravado or inappropriate cheerfulness, but merely a solid, even temperament.

In addition, Napoleon pointed out the importance of categorizing and weighing news, not only according to its rightful value, but also after considering potentially varying impressions of the same news. There may be unseen benefits in what appears to be bad news, and there may be dangers lurking behind seemingly good news. Overreacting to good news or bad news can take away from the true picture and can have an unpredictable impact on the morale of a team.

For example, a leader may want to rejoice when a major milestone is achieved, and certainly there is some benefit to celebrating small victories, but the project is not over until all the loose ends are resolved and the expected results have been delivered. The team must still maintain focus.

A leader may go on a tirade or appear convinced that a project cannot succeed upon hearing that a team member forgot to do something or that a stakeholder issued a complaint, but the fact is that these are merely triggers to see if a process needs correction or if communication needs to be improved. A negative or cynical attitude tends to spread throughout a team like a disease and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cooler heads must prevail.

So, the next time you find yourself getting all worked up or disillusioned, take time to examine the facts from all angles. Keep things in proper perspective. Consider the impact of your reaction on your team's morale and the potential effect on their behavior. If you find yourself becoming elated by good news before the project is finished, just be cautious that the team doesn't misinterpret your elation as an opportunity to relax and lose focus. Most importantly, don't let your emotions-good or bad-get in the way of sound judgment.

"Go Amongst the Soldiers"

Nature formed all men equal. It was always my custom to go amongst the soldiers and the rabble, to converse with them, hear their little histories, and speak kindly to them. This I found to be the greatest benefit to me.

One of the things that made Napoleon so popular with his troops was that he was always visible. He'd frequently go to the front lines and mingle with the troops, first to inspire them, but second to get a sense of how they were feeling and what was on their minds. This relates to building relationships by finding out the details of your team members' lives. Many companies in today's business atmosphere have a "be visible" policy for their managers. Some companies call it "management by wandering around" or MBWA-a term used at Hewlett-Packard and popularized in the landmark book In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman. As the correlation with Napoleon's theories can testify, this is certainly a good approach to adopt.

One thing to be cautious of when wandering around, though, is not to micromanage. There is a tremendous difference between being visible and micromanaging. It is one thing to mingle, to ask how things are going or if there is anything you can do to help. In this way, you are in a position to remove any barriers your team is facing. It is another to hover over people's backs and nitpick about what they are doing wrong. Better to ask if help is needed.

If a correction in course is needed, clarify the objective privately or generically to the team-if you feel the team could benefit from the clarification. Training could also be suggested as needed. Another way to get a point across is to schedule a joint working session where you can work with the team member (or team) to accomplish something; meanwhile, they're learning from you during the session in a noncombative way.

There are three primary purposes for mingling with your team: (1) to build relationships with them, which in turn builds trust; (2) to see if there are any barriers that you can remove for the team; and (3) to get a sense of the team's morale. It is important not to let micromanagement undermine these goals.

The Futility of Tyranny

Rule cannot be despotic because there is neither a feudal system, a mediatory body, nor a precedent on which it can act. As soon as a government becomes tyrannical, it must suffer in public opinion and will never regain confidence. Therefore, a Council is necessary for unforeseen cases, and the Senate is most suitable for this purpose. In my opinion, there is no such thing as despotism pure and simple. Ideas are relative. If a sultan has heads cut off at his pleasure, his own head is in most danger of all, for that very reason, of suffering the same fate.


Excerpted from NAPOLEON ON PROJECT MANAGEMENT by Jerry Manas Copyright © 2007 by Jerry Manas. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Part 1The Rise to Power
1The Skills to Succeed3
2A Compelling Vision21
3Diplomacy and Networking43
4Lessons from the Great Campaigns67
Part 2Napoleon's Six Winning Principles
5Introduction to the Six Winning Principles95
11Moral Force185
Part 3The Downfall
12What Went Wrong?203
13Lessons from the Russian Invasion and Waterloo221
14The Four Critical Warning Signs240
15Napoleon's Legacy254
About the Author267

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Napoleon on Project Management: Timeless Lessons in Planning, Execution, and Leadership 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
BJohnsonNC More than 1 year ago
Jerry Manas takes the reader on a journey through Napoleon's career and breaks down the strategies used by Napoleon to become successful. Next he gives us examples of how these can be applied in everyday business projects. We are also given some analysis of mistakes which unraveled Napoleon's empire and how to avoid falling into the same traps. This book is an impressive study and great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago