The art of war in project management


The Art of War - Sun Tzu - is a basic set of rules which helps a commander succeed when waging war. Although written in the ancient times, these basics can be successfully used in project management.

Since time immemorial Sun Tzu's The Art of War has been the guideline for people living in the Far East. The universality of his pronouncements is helpful for them in making decisions in their normal live: from trivial issues to complicated business negotiations. Recently this document has been rediscovered by other nations and several translations with interpretations has appeared focused on: business, politics, media areas and collocations with Sun Tzu's own work. For example it is still studied as part of the curriculum at the British Army Officer Training establishment, Aldershot.

The Art of War and Project Management.

Although it is not clear (Wikipedia, 2006) if Sun Tzu – Exhibit 1 - was one person or a group of philosophers, his pronouncements are extremely clear and definitely practical, no matter which Age is considering them.

Sun Tzu?

Exhibit 1 – Sun Tzu?

Reading the Art of War I discovered strong collocations to Project Management.

The basis for all thoughts presented by Sun Tzu are five elements (images) described by Robert Friedler (2006) as: path, heaven, earth, leader and law (Exhibit 2). And should be the key things for any Project Manager to remember when managing a project.

Sun Tzu's Five Elements

Exhibit 2 - Sun Tzu's Five Elements

According to the Ralph D. Sawyer (1996) the Art of War consists of following chapters:

  • Initial Estimations
  • Waging War
  • Planning Offensives
  • Military Disposition
  • Strategic Military Power
  • Vacuity and Substance
  • Military Combat
  • Nine Changes
  • Maneuvering Army
  • Configurations of Terrain
  • Nine Terrains
  • Incendiary Attacks
  • Employing Spies

Based on the content of the each chapter and interpretting the sentences toward the usage in Project Management the following structure of the chapters is proposed to build:

  • Project Concept
  • Strategy
  • Tactics
  • Resources Estimation
  • Strategy Selection
  • Weaknesses and Strengths
  • Project Realization
  • Flexibility
  • Resources Management
  • Project Environment
  • Risk Management
  • Unique Activities
  • Gathering Information

Following the Art of War, one can notice how important it is to clearly distinguish the planning phase and implementation phase in each project. The importance of proper planning is crucial as well as the power and different skills of the Project Manager.


Sun Tzu's “The Art of War” defined the fundamentals for waging war, but it could be used in different business areas. Reading The Art of War major basic advice for project manager practitioners is given. It shows how important it is to properly plan the project prior to execution. It shows that aspects such as: project environment, assignment of resources, risk management, motivation of the project team and project estimations are crucial for success.


Friedler, R. (2006) About the Art of War, Retrieved 29/02/2006 from

Sawyer, D. R. (1996) The Complete Art of War (History and Warfare), Westview Press Inc., Boulder, Colorado, USA.

Wikipedia, About the Sun Tzu, Retrieved 29/02/2006 from,

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