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Churchill the Agile PM

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Agile Leadership and Management of Change

Project Lessons from Winston Churchill and Battle of Britain



As the world’s economy becomes more integrated and organizations more interconnected, agility has become a more important factor than organizational size or economy of scale. An agile organization can better respond, in a timely way, to change and to external factors or events driving change. However, the road to organizational agility is not easy and requires a carefully planned transformation project based on the principles of agile leadership and the management of change to drive it. The book describes the strategies Churchill took to overcome incredible odds and turn the tide on the impending invasion. Aimed at business executives, IT managers, and project managers, the book extracts learnings from Churchill's experiences that can be applied to business problems today.


Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Multi-Media Publications Inc. (September 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1554890357
ISBN-13: 978-1554890354


Canadian Project Management Book Awards 2010

Through the Project Management Association of Canada winner in the following two categories:

  • 2010 Project Management Contextual Competence Award
  • 2010 Canadian Project Management Book of the Year

Churchill Agile PM book

Churchill Agile PM book


The book follows Winston Churchill’s progress as a prime minister (PM) and project manager (PM) managing his organization, the United Kingdom, in the summer of 1940. It examines how he planned and executed a transformation project to introduce organizational agility so that he could meet an immediate crisis, the most significant threat in five hundred years. It describes the strategies he took to overcome incredible odds. Not only did he have to stave off an imminent enemy invasion, but he also had to move the peacetime economy to one that could support a war. This meant acting with incredible agility, repairing the military supply chain, focusing slender resources on the immediate threat, unifying a disparate economy, and directing its output into immediate military use. With very little time, Churchill had to transform his organization through this project.


Bletchley Park Intelligence Processing Observers recognize enemy planes and plot these Bentley Priory Operations Room tracks events in real time and manages resources Pilots scramble as part of the sense and respond Adaptive Enterprise


Problems Addressed by the Book

This book will help you start to solve the following in becoming agile:


  • When to get started. An organization is facing a crisis, but the leaders cannot turn it around fast enough. The inability to make inroads comes down to the inability to trim down the scope, so it can be tackled as a transformation project.
  • How to get started. Leaders fail to understand, clearly articulate, and prioritize the problems they face, so the vision and journey are not clear, and the transformation project becomes tactical and short term.
  • Why get started. Institutional intransigence within the organization, an acceptance of the status quo, reluctance to take on the task in hand, and resistance to change. Leaders fail to put in place a communication plan and fail to put together the team to run the
    transformation project. The vision is not well communicated, the team fails to make an impact, and overall confidence wanes.
  • What are the risks. Transformation projects are enterprise wide and complex by their nature. As a result, the risk is greater, and there is less organizational tolerance in missed deadlines. It requires a more holistic approach. Carefully assess the risks associated with the transformation project before committing to it.
  • What if interest wanes. As important is keeping the organizational focus on the problems and the solution that the project will create. If interest wanes in the project, it is likely to be challenged or even abandoned.
  • Where to get started. Leaders do not have adequate information (about the organization, market, competition).
  • What technology options are available to the transformation project. What are the scope, costs, and risks associated with these?
  • What to get started with. Every transformation project needs to address all aspects of the business, namely, process, people, and technology.


Overview of the Book

Winston Churchill had a very lengthy career that spanned five decades. This Lessons from History book focuses on a relatively short period that starts in May 1940 and ends in October 1940. It relates to a perilous situation where the United Kingdom was on the brink of an invasion. This situation resulted in the Battle of Britain, which shifted the course of the Second World War.


churchill 1940greatest_briton_churchill


The story is about the leadership of Churchill the PM, prime minister or better still project manager, who as he came into office in a period of calamitous change, faced a potential disaster. It was a major undertaking where someone had to step up and take control of the situation, a project that no one wanted—a true project from hell. It was a truly desperate situation for a nation that had been ignoring all the warning signs for the best part of a decade. In this tight time frame, it boiled down to finding and implementing a solution that would extend Churchill’s limited forces and maximize their effectiveness. In today’s world, we talk about agile leaders who are capable of assessing a complex situation and then modifying their strategies and resources to attain the best outcomes for their organization.

So what is so important about this period of history? Simply put, the outcome of it was truly colossal, and it still reverberates today. Had the Battle of Britain been lost, it would have taken the United Kingdom out of the war through a peace treaty or invasion. The Axis would have had complete mastery of Europe. We would be living in a different world today had it not been for the outcome of this one single project. A regime similar to the system, but less horrendous, survived under the Soviets in Eastern Europe up to 1989.

The significance of this story is reflected in a noteworthy 2003 poll run by the BBC to vote for the “greatest Briton ever.” Churchill won easily and beat out titans such as Darwin, Shakespeare, Newton, Nelson, and Brunel. He is widely regarded not only as one of the greatest British prime ministers but also one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century, clearly, for what he achieved in this SPECIFIC period in his career. In addition, we will see how, against all odds, this project delivered a solution that not only met but also exceeded expectations; in fact, the outcome was very different from what everyone expected.

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” When Churchill spoke these words, it brought attention to RAF Fighter Command and specifically, the pilots. However, this was the tip of a very large organization that provided much broader functions.

As important as the Battle of Britain was, what truly differentiated Churchill were his long-term objectives for the war, which he planned and executed for from the first day he became PM. In today’s world, we talk about agile leaders who are always looking forward and positioning for the continual and sustained success of the organization. They have the ability to see beyond the short term and not sacrifice the longer-term objectives for it. This requires a resilience and fortitude to stand up for what matters.


British air space in May 1940


Churchill certainly possessed these qualities, as by September 1941 (three months prior to Pearl Harbor), the U.S. was supplying most of the United Kingdom’s armaments through lend-lease. Furthermore, they were also supporting the Soviet Union (centre of the conflict), providing convoy escorts across the Atlantic, had replaced the British forces protecting Iceland, and President Roosevelt had pledged every effort to defeat Germany.

The book looks at the background—why the United Kingdom got itself into a desperate situation in May 1940 and was so grossly unprepared. It also looks at the scope of what Churchill had to do and delves into the intricacies of the situation facing him and the associated problems, and how under tremendous pressure, he had to turn this around. For example, not only did he have to stave off an imminent enemy invasion but also he had to move the peacetime economy to one that could support a war long term, and this required a massive change effort. The book looks at how Churchill did it—how a project was put together to deliver a solution that in turn transformed his organization into the modern-day equivalent of an Adaptive Enterprise so that it could adapt to this unexpected situation.

As we go through the story, the historical analysis is done through a modern lens, examining the project along with Churchill's actions and strategy. For example, communication management was critical, as Churchill had to boost morale and inspire his cabinet, government, and nation to continue a fight already considered lost. Churchill set up an intricate adoption plan using the sway of the media, which came under his influence.

Aimed at project managers and business professionals, the book extracts learnings from Churchill's experiences that can be applied to project management today. For example, through a governance framework, Churchill had to organize the institutions and resources around him deftly to maximum effect. He had to focus slender resources on the immediate threat, unify a disparate economy, and direct its output into immediate military use. All the time, he had to manage the situation and events happening around him.

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