Could modern Project Management learn from the Battle of Waterloo?

When Wellington and Napoleon fought at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, standard operating procedure for a battle of that size was to have troops engaged in battle, but to also have significant reserves to call upon throughout.  These reserves would be well trained, but would be kept out of the combat until needed at key points.  Napoleon especially liked to keep his “crack” troops, The Imperial Guard in reserve, and would often call upon them late as his ace card to turn a battle his way, which served him well up until that fateful battle.

Now can you imagine this approach in modern business?  A team of “crack” developers sit there sharpening their knives, waiting for the red phone to ring?  Not going to happen right?  They would be first on the list for efficiency streamlining management initiatives, also known as redundancy.

The measure of success for a general such as Wellington is outcomes.  Very clearly this was to win the battle, with as little causalities as possible.  Having a large amount of redundant reserves allowed him to respond quickly to times of critical supply and demand.  He was truly able to be agile, flex and scale to handle the variety that was thrown at him.

Surely in modern business we also value key outcomes, such as getting to market first with a new product, or release more frequently customer enhancements, to keep them happy and using our services?

  • Is the idea of having a round robin process where certain people are low loaded over a period so they can respond to demand spikes so wrong?
  • Is the idea of turning down the throttle on your “work-in-progress”, to have some slack in the load on people an option?
  • Is the idea of having access to “Skilled resource as Service agreements with strategic partners, who understand your systems and processes an option?
  • Thinking ahead a little could we plug into a “Skilled resource services Cloud” where we can tap into a network of distributed developers?

The concept of having redundancy in the load on people, and budget spent or available just-in-case, will irk most modern managers.  However, maybe it’s a way to be truly agile and responsive to the unknowns that will hit all projects.  Could Project Management learn something from the Battle of Waterloo?

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