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Were the Three Stooges really good project managers?

Were the Three Stooges really good project managers?

Looking back at their 50-year history from a project management perspective

Background

For those of you not familiar with the Three Stooges, they were an American vaudeville and comedy act of the early to mid–20th century best known for their numerous short subject films. In films, the Stooges were commonly known by their first names: Moe, Larry, and Curly and Moe, Larry, and Shemp, among others. The film trio was originally composed of Moe Howard, brother Shemp Howard and Larry Fine. Curly Howard replaced brother Shemp, who later returned when Curly suffered a debilitating stroke in May 1946. Starting in 1922 until Moe’s death in 1975, the team appeared in exactly 220 films (30 motion pictures and 190 short films).

A Master plan

During their lengthy careers, (from 1934 to 1958), the Stooges released a total of 190 short films, or eight short films per year. A Master plan for the intended short films was published annually at a rate of eight per year. This Master plan had to take into account the 10 weeks that the Stooges devoted to public appearances, vacations and such. Each short film had a storyline with a ‘situation’ which was then scripted, edited, final scripted, cast, rehearsed, and scheduled to film (which took 4-6 days). There was a team of writers, directors, supporting actors, props, grips and film editors working on these films. The Stooges contracted with the studio only one year at a time and, toward the end of this period, they made the break into longer feature films. This happened in 1958, just as television became popular and 60 of their short films were released for TV, which helped their popularity soar and resulted in their finally being invited to make full length films. Films, personal appearances and a cartoon series continued until 1970 at which time Larry had a stroke. Both Moe and Larry died within months of each other in 1975.

Neither Moe nor Larry had any regrets about their career paths, other than their wish to have done more motion pictures versus short films. Keep in mind that during the Depression when the market was only for their short films, they were paid well, lived well and eventually achieved their goal of making only feature films. They were proud of what they had accomplished and lived by a motto quoted from Joe DiMaggio (a famous baseball player from that era) that “whatever I do, this might be the one and only time people will see me so I have to do my best.”

So, what can we take from this for our program and project management community?

Analysis in program/project terms

  • Moe was the program manager of the team in their 50-year program consisting of 220 projects. He led the overall Master plan. Larry was the assistant program manager, supporting Moe’s work.

  • For 24 consecutive years, they scheduled a steady eight projects per year. Each project had a lifecycle of Idea, Final Script, Casting, Rehearsing, Scheduling, Set-up, Filming, Editing and Release. That is to say, these guys worked to a controlled schedule.

  • They had a strict budget for each film, as the theatre would pay only so much for short films. Their budget management had to be very tightly controlled.

  • The Stooges had to deal with a diverse group of stakeholders — a project team of writers, directors, actors, managers, camera men, prop personnel, schedulers, and others involved in the making of films. All of this means that they had to deal with different ideas and views. They knew that their key external stakeholders — the Columbia studio executives and the theatre audiences — could make or break their reputation, and they kept them in the forefront of their minds.

  • They had a vision and an end goal, which was to make full length movies. That took the Stooges 30 years to achieve, yet they never lost sight of it; all of their actions took them closer to this goal as they steadily enhanced their reputation.

  • Upon completion of their goal, they had no real regrets and had executed to the best of their abilities over all those years.

  • Their projects have stood the test of time, and, arguably, realised all the benefits they had hoped to achieve.

In conclusion, people in the program/project management profession would probably not readily identify the Three Stooges as being relevant to their daily work, however, our research and the interview kindly granted to us by Eric Lamond (Larry Fine’s grandson) suggests otherwise. Although we only see the final output of the “16 minutes of buffoonery” in their short films, and their movies for that matter, the amount of project management activity undertaken by the Stooges when producing these iconic pieces of popular culture was tremendous. Keep in mind this was well before the existence of computers, scheduling software, email, mobile phones, and all the collaborative and productivity devices that PM practitioners use today. They had a plan and they worked that plan. How many of us will be able to say that 50 to 80+ years after the completion of one of our projects, that outputs will still be utilised and enjoyed globally?

We hope this article has given you a different perspective on how to view and appreciate project management. For those readers that don’t agree with us and/or don’t like this article, we can only respond with a time-honoured Stooges quote: “Nyuk – Nyuk – Nyuk”

The Three Stooges is a registered trademark of C3 Entertainment, Inc

Eric Lamond is the grandson of the Stooge, Larry Fine, and agreed to be interviewed for this article. Lamond is the director of Marketing C3 Entertainment, Inc, which licenses the Three Stooges. We asked if any copies of the original hand drawn production schedules were available for use in this article, but unfortunately none remain.

Gareth Byatt, Gary Hamilton, and Jeff Hodgkinson are experienced PMO, program, and project managers who developed a mutual friendship by realising they shared a common passion to help others and share knowledge about PMO, portfolio, program and project management. In February 2010, they decided to collaborate on a three-year goal to write 50 PM subject articles for publication in any/all PM subject websites, newsletters and professional magazines/journals. They can be contacted at Contactus@pmoracles.com


Other articles by these authors:

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