The Art of War for Project Managers 1.2 – The Five Measures

In the Art of War, as soon as Sun Tzu finishes explaining how serious the topic of war actually is, and how much careful examination it requires, he begins explaining how to go about studying it.

2,500 years ago Sun Tzu came up with a list of five things he said had to be considered first and foremost when one was going to engage in conflict. He referred to these as The Five Measures. They are:


My favorite explanation of how these five measures work is Gary Gagliardi‘s and it can be found in this book, or this video lecture (sadly, out of print). However, Gagliardi’s explanation is a little more focused on the sales and business side of things, so for people managing projects, a good way to think of these five measures is :

Tao – The philosophy that guides your opponent
Climate – The political environment you are dealing with
Ground – The organizational structure you are dealing with
Leadership – The leader’s character and decision making skill
Method – The efficiency and effectiveness of the applied Tao

Su Tzu says that if you study these five measures, you have to look at them as they relate to not only your opponent, but also yourself, and that if you are able to do that, you will be able to use them in order to achieve success.

He goes on to say that if you do not know these five measures, you cannot plan for success or prepare to achieve it.

In hopes of making it a little easier to apply, here are some examples of the kinds of things you might consider when applying the five measures to your own situation: (I’ve paired them up and listed them out of order because I think it makes them easier to understand).

Ground – What is the org. structure? Who is supposed to report to whom?

Climate – What is the political power structure? Despite the org charts, who really has the power to influence and make things happen – perhaps most importantly, who has the power and motivation to pose a threat to the work you are doing?

Leadership – What is the leadership style of the organization/people you are dealing with. For instance, some leaders are very command and control (“You can be in the boat, our of the boat”); others are more concerned with a shard or diplomatic solution.

Discipline – How strictly does the organization follow its’ own defined process. For example, there are lots of PMOs out there will very clearly defined processes that are not supposed to be deviated from… and yet often times, people spend more time working around the regulations than they do following it or adapting it.

Tao – This one is not always an easy thing to grasp for those who are not used to it. In the context of what we are talking about here, the Tao would refer to the nature/character/vibe of the place. Some organizations place a high value on creativity and freedom for responsible, engaged teams. Others are more about people working 9-5, following a process without much though or personal involvement in why things are done the way they are, or finding ways to make them more efficient.

If you take the time to explore these concepts and learn what they mean to the places you are working, it will better enable you to make the necessary decisions about how to approach your work.

One thought on “The Art of War for Project Managers 1.2 – The Five Measures

  1. Pingback: The Art of War for Project Managers 1.3 – Understanding the Five Measures » MacPM

Comments are closed.