Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

Think like a theatre director – and become an excellent programme manager

It’s rare to see a connection between the world of performing arts and the world of programme and project management….until you start to look at people’s non work based cvs. At that point, you start to see an incredible richness of experience, talent and focus dedicated towards the arts. So the question for me is, are there some aspects of the performing arts which help develop or naturally lend themselves to the requirements for programme and project managers?

In exploring this, let’s look at the main dimensions of a theatre production from the perspective of a programme manager:

  • Scope of work: Defined in terms of script, character and context but with lots of potential variance around interpretation.
  • Time, budget and quality: Time is strictly defined with many penalties around not starting the run as planned. Budget is defined early and for commercial theatre companies, controlled carefully. Quality is critical as it will determine success directly. What’s interesting about quality is that beyond the mechanics of the production (actors knowing their lines, set and lighting / music working, transitions between scenes managed carefully, seat allocation and sales, and marketing of the production), the perception of quality is qualitative rather and quantitative…and very often comparative. For most pieces, there is a legacy of previous productions which act as a source of reference for critics and audience alike. This colours opinion.
  • Leadership selection: The role of the director is a significant challenge for any theatre production. Autonomy for the latter is without question within the constraints of time and budget. QA is possible but in a negotiated way rather than as part of any governance structure. Interestingly, the previous history and style of the director plays a big part in the selection process. Rather than looking for flexibility, the personality and way of doing things is respected and not necessarily challenged by the sponsors. This is both a constraint and a comfort for the director…he / she knows that they’ve been selected with clarity about how they are likely to deliver but obviously from a career path perspective, this leads to a constraint and potentially perceived limitation beyond this specific activity.
  • Resourcing: Decisions about roles and responsibilities (casting) are probably the most important to be made by the director and as a consequence, the selection process is rigorous, uncompromising and surprisingly brutal. There’s a rawness about an audition process which creates complete clarity for actor about their suitability and the reasons for their selection or rejection.
  • Methodology: This is probably where the most interesting analogy exists. Theatre production by it’s very nature is agile, from the forming of teams to the development of scenes to the final production.
  • Culture and team: A theatre production lives and dies by it’s ability to form a cohesive, strong unit. The ruthlessness of selection feeds through to performance. In a successful production, the team exists in a bubble with an absolute focus on the deliverable almost to the exclusion of every else. Individuals have significant autonomy for interpretation but the success lies in the interaction between players.

It seems to me that there is much we could learn from the above…your thoughts?


Categories: Career development, Complex transformation, Consulting, human behaviour, Learning, Methodology, Music, Theatre, Transformation

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1 reply


  1. What we can learn from the creative arts….! | Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

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