Chess & Project Management

Chess and Project Management

Whilst many learn to play chess from an early age, I was not one of them. One of my cycling friends challenged me to a game of chess online (via the Lichess app…check it out!) at the start of COVID and being somewhat competitive, I did a quick crash course and proceeded to get regularly defeated over the subsequent months!

Not long after that the Netflix mini-series, “The Queen’s Gambit,” came out, which told the story of one girl’s struggle, and how she went from underdog to chess master. Whilst it would be a massive stretch to say I am comparing myself to this character, I do very loosely relate!

Having tired of online quizzes and after seeing the show I asked my family to buy me a chess board for my birthday. Since then, I have been playing chess regularly with family and friends, and online in my spare time. During this brief time, I have started to improve (slightly) but I have also drawn many similarities between the game of chess with my core background in project management.

Learning to be a good chess player requires patience and the ability to weigh up all the options, consider the risks and calculate the short-term concessions versus the longer-term benefits. It also nurtures our ability to sit, focus and weigh up all the options. I have also noticed the psychology of the game in that patience is required regardless of whether you are ahead or behind in each game. In summary, patience in considering all your options is a trait that serves many project managers very very well.

I have recently been part of a SWOT analysis that focused on our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to help us strategise by creating plans based on how strong or weak we perceive our organisation in certain areas. Similarly, with chess, it does not make much sense to challenge a player on the side of the board where all their forces are. They can also notice when the other player makes a mistake and creates weaknesses in their position.

As such the thought process for producing good chess moves or business-related strategies is the same. As a chess player, you will be better prepared to take this analytical approach before making your next business move, increasing your chances for success. Chess players and Project Managers alike are familiar with the saying “a bad plan is better than no plan at all”. Moving your pieces around with no bigger goal in mind will leave you stranded. Worst yet, you might waste valuable moves and, eventually, the game. It is fair to say the same about business. If you do not have an action plan and long-term strategy, you will not get far. Chess helps you to develop the habit of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.

As much as making plans is a crucial part of chess and business alike, the fact is that your opponents have plans of their own. They will do everything in their power to frustrate your plans and to make things go the way they want. Good chess players know that sometimes they need to adapt their plans to the new positions that arise after their opponents move. If a better move is possible, they do not hesitate to play it. If a bigger threat appears, they take the time to defend against it.

In the fast-paced world that we live in, adaptation is crucial to the success of a business. Chess will teach you the adaptation skills necessary to keep your company alive and thriving. In chess, everyone starts with limited resources, and it is up to each player to decide how to use those resources to achieve their goal. Good chess players know how to maximize the strengths of each piece and minimise their weaknesses. They also know how to make their pieces work together because they understand that a well-coordinated army is worth more than the sum of each unit.

Business people must also know how to make the most out of their resources. Be it money, time, or the abilities of their team, a successful business person is always striving to maximise utilistion and output with minimal investment. Taking a lesson from chess, managers and business owners can do wonders by perfecting resource management.

Analysing what works and what does not is a part of any serious chess player’s life, and it is a skill that makes all the difference in business, too. The savvy business person studies the best practices in their industry to follow and improve on them, too. Chess will reinforce the necessity of constantly learning from others how you can improve your own business.

A key to playing chess well is to better understand the relationships between the pieces or in business terms, the team members. You also must gain the ability to recognise patterns. When you see a pattern (or plan) that you are familiar with, the right moves may surprisingly suggest themselves.

Can you recognise as I do the correlation of project management to chess, or do you have some other activity that draws the comparisons even better?

Thomas McGrath - Chief Operating Officer

Thomas McGrath - Chief Operating Officer

Thomas McGrath is the Chief Operating Officer at Aspira and comes from a broad background of Business & Technical Transformation, Project & Programme Delivery and Change Management Consultancy. As COO, Thomas has responsibility for core project delivery functions at Aspira which include Project Resourcing including Nearshoring, Advisory, Software Development, Business Applications & ITS

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