Binge-watching for project managers

Project management is a curiosity business, and we need a constant stream of new ideas to keep us on our toes. But learning new industries or specialties doesn't have to be boring, and who doesn’t like a themed binge list on a Seattle Snow Day?!


So…I’m sharing some of my favorites and invite you to do the same! Depending on your mood, interest, and taste for depth, there’s something for everyone. Personally, I’m a bit of an animation geek and err on the side of “ooh, that’s cool” for documentaries, so that’s my tilt for this list, including YouTube/Netflix links for trailers/episodes wherever possible:


Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie (streaming on Hulu, released 2017) blew my mind. Snazzy pretty piece, this movie tells the marketing tale of taking on an iconic brand, looking controversial issues in the face, dealing with stakeholders from Gloria Steinem to little girls and boys to Mattel money managers, and making decisions to launch new faces and more. 


  • Industry: Consumer products/toys 

  • Function focus: Marketing/Brand Management

  • Project focus: New product introduction


Let there Be Light (streaming on Prime Video, released 2017) is a movie about fusion energy. (No, not the Kevin Sorbo one, the documentary.) I saw this one first at a sustainability conference, and got to chat with some of the scientists involved. This movie is about commitment, vision, innovation, passion for science and global cooperation. Stakeholders? Stakeholders? I’ve got your stakeholders right here!


  • Industry: Energy

  • Function focus: Engineering/Construction/Experiment design

  • Project focus: Stakeholder alignment/scope commitment


Wrath of Gods (stream on Prime Video, released 2006) is about the making of the movie Beowulf and Grendel with Gerard Butler, and the documentary got more awards than the movie itself….you get the idea. The documentary one is more about a visionary movie maker just staring Odin in the face and making a movie anyway. Word of warning…if you’re watching during a snow day, you may need to stoke up the fire before watching this one, just in sympathy for the movie crew.


  • Industry: Entertainment/Movies

  • Function focus: Location/Shooting

  • Project focus: Project execution/scheduling/budget


Loving Vincent (avail to buy on Amazon, released 2017) is less about a project and more a miraculous product of one. This story unwinding Van Gogh’s last days is presented in the world’s first fully oil painted feature film. My animation bias is showing, I know, but watching this movie knowing the resourcing behind it, the true innovation on HOW a hand-painted feature movie in the style of the master got done is just a meta-fest! Here’s a 6 minute behind the scenes piece from the director to set the stage. 


  • Industry: Entertainment/Movie Making

  • Function Focus: Resourcing Expertise

  • Project Focus: Delivering on the vision


Maybe it’s the focus on peaceful doing that you need most on your day off, especially if it leads to a beautiful bowl of soup. If so, then Korean priest/chef Jeong Kwan’s episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table is an hour worth spending. Origin and purity of purpose, the depth of adherence to an accepted set of guidelines…this is a meditation hour for sure. You’ll never look at tea the same way again.


  • Industry: Culinary

  • Function Focus: Ingredient respect, process is purpose

  • Project Focus: Creativity and expression within established guidelines, authenticity in leadership


Getting more esoteric, project managers can sometimes get stuck in tactics and forget the creative element. How do people think? What tactics do they use? Do they work? Would they work for you? Another Netflix documentary series, Abstract: the Story of Design, gives you bursts of that in different applications, and lots of “oooh…pretty!!!”   Even if you don’t commit to the whole thing, the first episode on illustration is also a great conversation starter with the “creatives” in your life!


  • Industry: Design

  • Function Focus: Concept development

  • Project Focus: Creative Development, Design, Scope Definition


And taking design back down to product outcomes…time to get back to that Snow Day vibe! Netflix comes through once again with the series The Toys that Made Us, nostalgia and a stealthy MBA master class all in one, starting with the story of Star Wars merchandise. Which market came first, the toy or the content for He-Man? And really? That name worked, even then? And what the heck was up with all the really BAD Star Trek licensed merchandise? There’s even a Barbie episode, in case you didn’t get enough.


  • Industry: Consumer Products/Toys

  • Function Focus: Marketing/Production/Licensing

  • Project Focus: Product Portfolio Management, Decision Making, Project Scheduling


Whether it's snow, the flu, or a go-live recovery comp day, multi-task like a pro with professional development options for your binge-watching. I tend to aim for the inspiration side of things, but we also learn from the lessons NOT learned by others...call out to the folks who nominated either version of the Frye Festival post mortem.....What shows up on your snow day binge list?


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