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Game of Thrones: An Epic of Fire-Breathing Dragons, Cunning Chieftans and... Agile?

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Game of Thrones, the epic series on HBO, is returning for a third season on Sunday. While you're preparing yourself for a healthy dose of beheadings, scheming and fire-breathing dragons it's impossible not to notice the implicit messages conveyed by the author George R. R. Martin: underneath the drama and theatrics, Game of Thrones is fundamentally a story of how an Agile mindset crushes deterministic, waterfall-based management thinking.

Think it's a stretch? Let's have a look at the Agile values and see how they relate in the context of Westeros and the Seven Kingdoms:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Think Tyrion Lannister, often called the “Imp and the halfman”, would have gotten anywhere with a fancy process or sophisticated tool? Hardly. Through his wit, silver tongue and yes, frequent interactions with his collaborators -- as well as his enemies -- Tyrion continue to exert an outsized (pun intended) influence among the players in the Seven Kingdoms. "Some battles are won with swords and spears, others with quills and ravens." - Tyrion Lannister

Working software over comprehensive documentation

People who place a high value on documentation typically do not keep their heads for long in Westeros. When Robert Baratheon names his friend Eddard Stark as regent on his deathbed by creating an official royal document, his cunning wife Cersei simply burns the parched piece of paper in front of everyone, seizes power, denounces Lord Eddard as a traitor and ensures the Lord is quickly beheaded. So much for the power of documentation.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Contract negotiations are generally challenging in Game of Thrones -- let's just say lawyers are not typically viewed with much respect unless they can wield a sword or shoot an arrow. But frequent collaboration -- sometimes between enemies -- can quickly create results. When Robb Stark aims to avenge his father's death by going to war against the Seven Kingdoms, he's able to get his army across the Twins by collaborating with a former enemy, Lord Walder Frey. Being able to cross the Twins so quickly becomes a competitive advantage and leads to several victories for Robb Stark, helping to cement his status as "the King of the North".

Responding to change over following a plan

Game of Thrones clearly rewards those who are quick on their feet and able to adapt to changing business conditions.

When Daenerys Targaryen was first married to Khal Drogo, she was meek and without much self-confidence. However, as she adapted to life as a Dothraki khalasar she emerged from the situation as a confident, strong woman. Her ability to adapt and turn a potentially dangerous situation into an advantage ultimately lead to her becoming "The Mother of Dragons" and one of the most important characters in the saga.

Game of Thrones may be fictitious entertainment and a guilty pleasure for millions of people. But as you get ready to enjoy another season of the stories and characters of the Seven Kingdoms, pay attention to how adaptability, speed of execution and effective communication skills (sometimes in the form of a battle axe) tends to win over traditional, plan-based management strategies.
Game of Thrones may be fiction, but its analogy to battles fought in your industry might be closer to reality than you think...


Steven M. 2013-04-01
Damn you Jorgen. Now, the Game of Thrones will never be the same :)
Rick W. 2013-04-02
(Caution, thar be spoilers 'neath.)
Well, I don't know about these analogies.

Ned losing his head over a royal decree, being compared to working software vs. comprehensive documentation, that's a stretch. (Cersei tore the parchment up, she didn't burn it, BTW. And her intent was to keep lord Stark alive, not to kill him).

(King) Robb Stark's agreement with Lord Frey was a contract/compro mise, not really collaboration. And the agreement that they came to ultimately led to Robb's death.

Finally, though Danny is my favorite character in the books and TV series, I have to say Daenerys is probably not the epitome of adaptation that you may think she is. Her refusal to react to all of the atrocities that the former leaders of Mereen commit, leads to costing many people their lives, her own marriage to a man she despises, and ultimately (at least as far as the story currently goes) her own 'self-banishment'.

Though I love that you tried to weave GOT into an Agile world, I don't think you selected the best examples for your case.

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