What can project managers learn from Breaking Bad?

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013 By Jack Nevison

Breaking Bad—which told the story of a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher who became a ruthless drug kingpin to pay for his cancer treatment—has come to an end following this week's finale, watched by 10.3 million viewers. But while millions of fans spend the next few days discussing the final episode and parsing through their favorite scenes, others can look to the show for a slightly different set of lessons.

Namely, how business relationships should work.

For what is the relationship between Walter White and his former student, Jesse Pinkman, if not a business relationship? The duo spends a tumultuous series cooking and selling methamphetamine together, all while competing with—and eventually eliminating—increasingly dangerous rivals.

What can these two fictional characters teach project managers who work with teams? Quite a bit. Consider the show through the lens of the sponsor and the protégé.

First, according to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, both "sponsors" and "protégés" offer each other useful assistance. Sponsors—a role often filled by project managers—give their protégés advice. They work hard at providing expert guidance, as their own success depends upon how well the team performs. This describes Walter White's relationship to Jesse throughout most of the series. Meanwhile, protégés are loyal and work hard, because the team's success is a way for them to climb the corporate ladder. Most importantly, protégés try to offer something that the sponsor does not have.

"Protégés really distinguish themselves by contributing something the leader prizes but intrinsically lacks," the article reads. "In the corporate world, this could be gender smarts or cultural fluency; it could be social media skills on a team unaccustomed to connecting via the Internet, or language skills on an international assignment."

Jesse, being much more familiar with the underworld, helps Walter keep his footing as he transitions from the traditional middle-class American lifestyle to that of a drug lord.

Sponsors—or in this case, skilled project managers—must do their best to foster the development of those who report to them. It's not easy to turn a relationship based on rank into one that is essentially a partnership. But when done well, the result can be a highly successful–and mutually beneficial–operation.

New Leaf's programs can help you excel as either a sponsor or a protégé. Our white papers and QPM, an online estimating game, let you advance your career while you earn convenient and affordable PDU credits for PMP recertification.

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