We all know Samuel L Jackson is an outstanding actor and has played some of the most memorable roles ever shot on film. But did you also know that he is a badass project manager?
I don’t know if he worked as a project manager as his night job when he worked his way through Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, or if he’s just a natural.
Here are 9 quotes from his movies that prove he’s a project manager you’d want to have on your project. The quotes are ranked in reverse order of my favourite.
#9: “I’m as serious as a heart attack.”
Ordell Robbie (Jackie Brown)
Samuel knows that projects are not social gatherings or idle side gigs that can be dropped whenever they get too challenging or if something else comes along.
A project is set up to get things done, and it needs serious people to exercise accountability and serious skills.
Samuel is a professional to his core and takes his acting roles seriously.
He wants you to do that too.
#8: “Hold On to Your Butts”
Ray Arnold (Jurassic Park)
Things go wrong in projects. We know that. So does Sam.
In Jurassic Park, he plays the role of a technical manager overseeing the development of the park’s systems. That simple statement made everyone alert and ready for the emerging crisis, which ultimately destroyed the park.
When things go wrong in a project, the PM’s role is to keep everyone calm and prepare them for the bumpy ride ahead. But they need to be forewarned and prepared.
#7: “You think that you follow a script in a war and things are all right? People die, sometimes they’re innocent but in a war innocent people DIE!”
Colonel Terry Childers (Rules of Engagement)
Your methodology is not going to save you. Not unless you already know more than the methodology, in which case you don’t need the methodology.
Samuel is saying, “there’s no silver bullet. There are no magic words that will make this project work.”
You have to accept the reality that some things are not going to go the way you want them.
That shouldn’t stop you, but it should make you wary of promises that this tool or that process will make your project into a unicorn.
#6: “Everyone Knows When You Make an Assumption, You Make An Ass Out Of ‘U’ And ‘Umption.’”
Mitch Henessey (The Long Kiss Goodnight)
Samuel is showing a deep understanding of the planning process in this one.
He knows that there are 2 types of assumptions:
Type 1: gaps in your knowledge are filled with fact-based projections or educated guesses that enable an end-to-end model of the future. Like all models, it has good Boxian qualities (wrong but useful) and can be used for limited purposes.
Type 2: you plug the gaps in your knowledge with anything that comes to mind. Suspend the law of gravity? Sure, no problem! Get 10 months of work done in a week? Done! The software delivered from the vendor will have zero bugs? Easy!
Samuel was talking about the Type 2 assumption — the ‘umption.’
Stay away from the umptions.
#5: “Given That It’s A Stupid-Ass Decision, I’ve Elected To Ignore It.”
Nick Fury (The Avengers)
A PM has to stay above the negative interactions between team members and keep an eye on the prize. S/he can’t engage in petty wars with people they don’t like or engage in burning someone if they make a mistake. Get on with it and ignore it.
Likewise, if you get directed to do something that is plainly not in the interests of the project, the PM needs to think about how they can save the project. One option is to just ignore the instruction and see if it comes back. Often managers make snap decisions and then just fail to follow up. They get distracted.
Agency is one of the foundations for project success. You need to “proceed until apprehended” to follow your own conscience about what is right and what is wrong. Don’t ask permission on things that fall within your delegation.
Just get it done.
#4: “If my answers frighten you then you should cease asking scary questions.”
Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction)
I love this quote. The irony is palpable. Samuel is having a massive dig at whoever he’s talking to.
Of course, he means, “don’t stop asking questions. Just stop being frightened of the answers”.
People don’t ask questions because they think they might not like the answers. That might work in some places, but it never works in projects.
A project is just one big question machine. We’re trying to build something new in some future state. We need to know things about the current state so we can design the solution. We can’t do it on “maybe”, or “Oops, I forgot to mention” or “That reminds me”.
How many times as a PM have you asked a question and been told “IDK” and let it stop there?
No! Find the answer. Keep asking questions.
#3: “And You Will Know My Name Is The Lord When I Lay My Vengeance Upon Thee!”
Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction)
Sam knows that you don’t mess with the project manager. A PM isn’t the “boss” of the project. S/he’s not the “CEO” of the endeavour. And not the captain of the team.
The PM is a utility player who can play in any position. The PM’s role is to facilitate the activities of the project team so they can accomplish their goals, and by doing so, achieve the project’s goals.
But, in some circumstances, the PM must be able to adopt that role if required. And if s/he takes that on, then lead, follow or get the f$ck out of the way.
When the PM is in that mode, it’s for a reason.
Tom Peters wrote about the 8 dilemma’s of the project manager, and in many cases, one horn of the dilemma was the need for the PM, from time to time, to instantly switch into a more directive mode of management.
So when they are in this mode, don’t cross them. Just like you wouldn’t cross Sam. Or you know what will happen.
#2: I’m not your friend … I’m your total stranger
Zeus Carver (Die Hard with a Vengeance)
Samuel understands the fundamental relationship between a supplier and a customer — and that means he can manage a project towards enablement, not delivery.
Zeus Carver is forced to team up with John McLane (Bruce Willis) by Simon Gruber, the terrorist/robber mastermind, but Zeus wants none of it and leaves.
McLane has to get Zeus to help him. So he runs after Zeus and says: “Zeus! Yo, partner! Wait up.”
And Zeus responds:
“I ain’t your partner. I ain’t your neighbor, your brother, or your friend. I’m your total stranger.”
Think about this and your perspective on your project. Almost certainly, you are thinking about product things. For example, the features you’re going to deliver or what widgets will be on the website. You’re wondering whether they can navigate to the checkout so they’ll buy online.
The problem is that these are all the things that interest you.
But your customer doesn’t care. They are thinking about the people and things in their lives — or more likely worried about them given our current troubles.
Samuel understands this and aces this sentiment.
#1: “I Have Had It With These Motherf*cking Snakes On This Motherf*cking Plane!”
Neville Flynn (Snakes on a Plane):
Sam means: keep the noise down. Keep things simple.
Groom your backlogs — get rid of anything that doesn’t enable customers to create value for themselves.
Same with requirements — don’t fill them full of everything you can possibly think of that the customer may “like” or “want”. Don’t add requirements to show off your skills and prowess.
These things are like snakes. Sam didn’t want them on his plane, and we don’t want them in our projects.
Samuel would recommend you open some doors.
If you like what you’ve read, be sure to clap or ♥ it below — as a writer, it means the world.
Stay in touch by subscribing to my weekly newsletter here.