A villain just isn’t a villain without an Evil Plot. While plot aims differ – from taking over the world to making the hero’s life a nightmare – every good scheme follows the same process. If it doesn’t, it’s apt to fail. Since heroes are “supposed” to win, even well organized villain plans usually fail. At that point the question is: How much victory can the villain snatch from the jaws of defeat?
A favorite Disney villain of mine and of many people is that Mistress of Fashion, that Devil in Furs, Cruella De Vil from Disney’s 101 Dalmatians (1961)*! Though charming and flamboyant to your face, she’s not one to be trifled with. She’s got evil henchmen. She’s got an evil lair (Hell Hall). And she’s got an evil plot: In the pursuit of high fashion, she wants to create the ultimate fur coat.
Her plan is very detailed and has many components. In 101 Dalmatians, there isn’t any advanced technology or magic to use, so she has to pull off her plan through normal channels. These factors are why she’s a great model for project planning. (Fun fact: there’s actually a profession called Project Manager. Worth looking into if you enjoy organizing, leading, and planning.)
Step 1: Project Goal
What’s the point of the plan? The goal isn’t always easy to nail down. Why? Because other people are involved. So, find the stakeholders in this plan. A stakeholder is anyone who has an interest in the plan’s objective.
The usual project has standard stakeholders:
– Project sponsor
– Customer who receives the deliverables
– Users of the end product
– Project manager
– Project team
– Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
– Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
– Assignable – specify who will do it.
– Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
– Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
These smaller goals go into the project plan. Prioritize them!
Cruella’s overall goal was to make an incredible fashion statement. Her criteria/objectives?
1. Made of fur, her favorite material.
2. Be black and white.
3. Be impossible to miss.
4. Something that’s never been done before.
5. Stay within budget.
That narrows it down pretty well to Dalmatian puppy coat, if you ask me.
Ah, but there are more people than just her involved. She needed puppies for fur, henchmen to acquire and guard the puppies, and a tanner who could prepare the fur and make the coat. See how the stakeholders just multiplied?
Each stakeholder has their own interests. The puppy owners want to know their dogs are in good hands. The henchmen want to get paid. The tanner wants to be paid and keep this all businesslike.
Step 2: Deliverables
The objectives help us determine what we need to complete the project. Deliverables are items you need to complete the overall goal. Often deliverables are components of the end product. The list of deliverables is also called the Project Scope and goes on the Scope Statement.
Cruella’s deliverable list might look like this:
Step 3: Schedule
Now that we have a basic idea of what we need to do, we have to create a work breakdown structure (WBS) for each one. Tasks usually require sub tasks…and sub-sub tasks. Chunk down any task and you can achieve it. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. The tough part is foreseeing what’s involved in each task.
This WBS in turn helps us make a schedule. Included in the schedule is the time estimated for completion on each deliverable/task and the resources you’ll need to complete them. Microsoft Project* works well for organizing this. At the end of this process you should be able to see how realistic your deadline is. Pro Tip: always factor in double the amount of time and resources you think you’ll need. Just trust me on this. Really. Or you can ask Murphy and his law.
When larger objectives are complete, these are considered milestones.
Cruella’s rough WBS and schedule might look like this:
– Locate providers of puppies. Time estimate: 3 weeks, [insert start date]. Resources: manpower, newspaper, phone, vehicle, bribe money.
— Sub task: Search newspapers.
— Sub task: Call suppliers.
— Sub task: Check suppliers’ puppies.
– Purchase puppies. Time estimate: 1 week. Resources: manpower, phone, vehicle, purchase money.
— Sub task: Visit each supplier.
– Transport puppies. Time estimate: 1/2 day each puppy supplier. Time depends on how many pups each supplier can provide. Resources: manpower, phone, vehicle.
— Sub task: Visit each supplier.
— Sub task: Load puppies.
– House puppies. Time estimate: 1 week while acquiring more puppies. Resources: building, dog care supplies, manpower, lots of newspaper.
— Sub task: Care for puppies.
– Process Dalmatians. Time estimate: 3 weeks. Resources: manpower, facility.
— Sub task: …Ok, I think you get the point without going into further detail!
Step 4: Budget
This is called the Cost Baseline. You have a starting budget, of course, but only after you list the deliverables and calculate the time/resources each task requires will you get a realistic budget. Trust me, it’s always going to be more than what you figured at first! Even if it isn’t more on paper just yet, give it time. Remember, plan for it costing double what you think it will cost! If it doesn’t, great. If it does, you’re ready.
If it looks like the cost is going to be astronomical, you need to roll back to step one and revise those objectives. Then you can move down the steps again to see where you can cut costs. Cut the pork, dead wood, and whatever extravagances wormed their way into the plan. Rinse and repeat until it’s manageable. Be warned: Some projects are not doable with the resources on hand. Be doubly warned: Most of the time you get what you pay for, and you’ll pay most dearly if you try to cheap your way through a project.
Cruella could pull most of this off without getting into the red. Puppies are expensive, but other than the tanner, they’re the most expensive part of the project. Their costs are fairly easy to calculate, too, so odds are they won’t run over budget.
Step 5: Sub Plans
Needs more plans. Don’t panic! They’re here to help you. They shouldn’t take too much effort to assemble.
Name all the people involved in carrying out the job. Describe their titles, roles, responsibilities.
Cruella’s list would look like this:
Cruella De Ville. — Project lead. Fund supplier. Customer. — Determining and organizing tasks. Coordinating actions between tanner and henchmen. Keeping the project secret. Exploring new puppy leads.
Horace — Henchman. — Find puppy supplier. Get puppies. Care for puppies. Process puppies.
Jasper — Henchman. — Find puppy supplier. Get puppies. Care for puppies. Process puppies.
Who gets status updates on the project, how often, by what means, and what will the update contain? How will the team members communicate with each other – meetings, phone, email? – and how often? Chain of command?
Cruella told her henchmen not to directly involve her. They of course are idiots and ignore her warning.
This is important! This plan is where you nail down risks you can foresee, how you’ll prevent or deal with them, and how you’ll prevent or deal with problems you didn’t foresee. Be prepared.
It’s not too difficult to think of at least a few problems that might arise. Think outside the box here too. Some will be generic, like going over budget, but a good percentage should be project specific. You can add risks as they occur or as you think of them even while the project is underway.
Cruella’s risk list might look like this:
– Time and cost estimate too optimistic.
Prevent: Be generous in time and cost estimates. Double them.
Remedy: Steal Dalmatians.
– Not enough puppies on the market at once.
Prevent: Ask suppliers in advance when they’ll have puppies. Determine when breeders like to breed their dogs. Look at past records of puppy availability. How seasonal is it? Is getting 101 in this area even feasible?
Remedy: Steal Dalmatians. Bribe owners. Ship puppies in from abroad.
– Unclear roles and responsibilities.
Prevent: List all roles and responsibilities. Hire intelligent people.
Remedy: Clarify roles and responsibilities.
– Not clearly understanding stakeholder needs.
Prevent: List all needs and criteria. Hire intelligent people.
Remedy: Clarify needs and criteria.
– Stakeholders adding new requirements after the project has started, such as needing more puppies.
Prevent: Increase estimates of time and resources by 1/4 for number of puppies needed.
Remedy: Steal Dalmatians.
– Poor communication resulting in mishandling, misunderstandings, loss, discovery by police.
Prevent: Have a solid communication plan in place. List requirements for each step of the plan execution.
Remedy: Increase communications and institute read-back/teach-back/closed-loop communication.
– Puppies escape.
Prevent: Keep the puppies in very secure location, well fed, unsuspecting.
Remedy: Follow tracks. Use vehicles. Use posters.
There are plenty of books out there, like Project Management For Dummies* and Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager*, that have way more information. I took a whole class on project management in college. Consider the steps above as the basics. Even so, if you follow them, you’ll improve your chances of success. Just don’t go planning any unconventional fur coats…
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments. Perform your own villain assessments with the Villain Matrix. Use the Villain Matrix spreadsheet that comes free when you join the Research Team, where you’ll also get our newsletter with its exclusive updates and content.
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