Learning‌ ‌Project‌ ‌Management‌ ‌from‌ ‌Frederick‌ ‌Forsyth‌ ‌–‌ ‌Part‌ ‌1‌ ‌of‌ ‌3‌

Introduction –

Mr. Forsyth hit the readers with a novel (later novels) that broke the mould. In his book “The Outsider” Mr. Forsyth shares the genesis of his first three novels – The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File and The Dogs of War (All made into films). One of the features of these novels is the “obsession for technical accuracy”.

In this article, we will try to relearn the “application” of project management. Each novel is a project. “Jackal” has plans to kill the president of France.  “Odessa” aims at finding a Jew hater and hand him over to Israelis. “Dogs” plans to return a republic to its rightful president. All have ALL characteristics of a project – A Start and an End. One can see all the project management processes – Feasibility, Initiating, Planning, Execution, Monitoring and Controlling and finally closing. Sometimes one can see two project going on in parallel – Jackal’s project and the French police’s project to stop him is one example. I will explain this as we proceed. I propose to share my learning in stages – (1) Background, (2) The 5 project management processes and (3) closing comments.

The article is divided in three parts. This part 1.

  1. Day of the Jackal 

(Page numbers in brackets are from this novel unless stated otherwise)

  1. Background –
    1. When Mr. Forsyth started writing the novel on 02-01-1970, President Charles De Gaulle was ALIVE. He died on 09-11-1970. No one has tried to write a book on a living person (The Outsider – p262). On the same page Mr. Forsyth talks about the obsession for technical accuracy.
    2. The novel begins in startling manner. It describes an attempt to kill De Gaulle (The Day of the Jackal – pp 3-10) in minutest details. This was possible because Mr. Forsyth was a reporter with Reuters at that time (1963 – p1). He was an eye witness to the event (The Outsider – pp126-127) including the words of the President “ ils ne savant pas tirer – they can’t shoot straight”
    3. This gave an idea to Mr. Forsyth – The “Secret Army Organisation (OAS) was wanting to eliminate the French president for his betrayal of France – granting independence to Algeria. But OAS was riddled with leaks (The outsider – p125). It impossible for them make a plan that would reach the French secret service or police.
    4. The only possibility, thought Mr. Forsyth, is a complete outsider and a professional hitman to do the job. This was 1963. The Jackal hit the book stores in 1970.
  1. Project Management processes
    1. Feasibility – The person involved in the assassination plot was shot dead in March 1963. The OAS “commandant” realised that any future attempt would be futile because the security ring around the president was even more alert and tighter. He (Col. Mark Rodin, P24 – a man who is not known …). His research leads him to Jackal. The feasibility study concludes in a meeting and agreement with the Jackal. Fee is agreed – half a million US dollars 50% in advance.
    2. Initiating – For both parties the tasks are now clear
      1. For OAS – arrange money, an inside informant in France
      2. For the Jackal –
        • Start researching De Gaulle to plan the job.
        • When and where  should he be killed
        • Plan the “kill”
      3. So the “project charter”
        • For OAS – get “France”, cheap for half a million dollars.
        • For the Jackal – finish the job and retire.
      4. For both parties, there is an agreed budget, defined key stakeholders, identified assumptions and constraints. Risks are on Jackal – detection and failure.
    3. Planning and procurement [OAS tasks defined in b (i)] for the Jackal
      1. Identifying place and time of kill (pp 51-53)
      2. False identity papers (False passports 2 stolen p55-56, driving license and French ID cards –p76) to mitigate the risk of detection. One British original passport – he acquires himself, p60.
      3. The weapon. The discussion between the Jackal and Gun-maker is a classic example of defining product scope. The Jackal tells his requirements in his non-technical language and the gun-maker coverts in a his technical language (pp65-70)
    4. Risk Management – If detected, the project fails. Biggest risk is failure to kill. The detection part is mitigated part by several back-ups through different passports within France and finally an ID card. However, failure to kill falls in “Unknown- Known” category. He does not know why failure can happen but has a mitigation plan (a second bullet if he misses the first). Even in case of failure to kill, escaping is also risky – p42.
    5. Execution – By this time the French police is alerted and is tracking the Jackal. This is the parallel project I am referring to – detection, prevention and elimination. For this project stakes are very high. The president himself. As Jackal moves changing identities, the police is just one step behind. Why do police keep missing him? See page 320.
    1. Closing/ Ending – Those who have read the novel don’t have to know. Those who haven’t don’t need to know. But the USP of the novel is: reader knows that the attempt must have failed because De Gaulle died a natural death on 08-11-1970. The reader is curious to know the reason for failure and keeps reading. That is the skill of the author! Right from page 1 it is a clever mix of facts and fiction.

Part 1 ends here. In the next part we will have look at “The Dogs of War”



Introduction –

Before we get into “Dogs of War”, here is the story that led to birth of “The Odessa File” and “The Dogs of War”. The detailed story appears in Mr. Forsyth’s book “The Outsider (pp265-268)”. As the manuscript “Jackal” was accepted by Harold Harris, Editorial Director, Hutchinson. Mr. Harris asked Mr. Forsyth for two more synopses. Mr. Forsyth wrote – (1) The Odessa File and (2) The Dogs of War by end of 1970. Mr. Forsyth was in business of writing “different” novels. We will follow the pattern describe in part 1, i.e. (1) Background, (2) The 5 project management processes and (3) closing comments.

The Dogs of War  

(Page numbers in brackets are from this novel unless stated otherwise)

  1. Background – 
    1. While reading this book I realised that Platinum is used in automobile exhaust pipes as a catalyst to convert Carbon Monoxide into Carbon Dioxide (CO to CO2). The quality of Mr. Forsyth’s research is evident when he describes Platinum (pp44-47). Sir James Mason’s mining company discovers a mountain that contains platinum, worth 10 billion dollars. If cars need Platinum as a catalyst to convert CO to CO2, automakers will need lot of Platinum. If Sir James can get the mining contract from Govt. of Zangaro (an obscure republic ruled by a maniac president for life and “nurtured” by Russians) Sir Mason can be a very rich man indeed.
    2. But, there is a big IF. (1) Zangaro’s president cannot be convinced so easily to give the mining contract to Sir Mason’s mining company, (2) Russians also know about Platinum, through their spy network I London, (3) They too, shall vie for the mining rights because the president of Zangaro “listens” to Russians. So, Sir Mason launches a project to stage a “coup” in Zangaro, install a dummy president and get the mining rights. He asks two of his deputies to make a plan to stage a revolution in Zangaro. In Sir Mason’s words “Knocking off a bank or an armoured truck is merely crude. Knocking off a republic has, I feel, a certain style” (p146). This sentence appears verbatim in Mr. Forsyth’s book “The Outsider” – p279.
    3. To stage a coup, one needs an army which one cannot get. But there are “paid” soldiers called mercenaries (pp103-106). Mr. Forsyth describes the research process in pages 278-282.
    4. The book starts by describing the return of the mercenaries (pp9-24). A real life event described by Mr. Forsyth in “The Outsider” (pp257-260)”. The General in “The Dogs of War” (page 10) is based on a real person Emeka Ojukwu’s escape described in “The Outsider (p257)”.
  1. Project Management processes 
    1. Feasibility – Based on the research described (pp103-106) CAT Shannon is the mercenary chosen to visit and prepare a military assessment to explore if a coup can be staged. Shannon’s report (pp140-141) followed by a detailed plan (p158-161), budget and schedule (p161). Another example of application of preparing Project Management Plans
    2. Initiating – For both parties the tasks are now clear
      1. For Sir Mason – arrange money, form a shell company (p144)
      2. For CAT Shannon – 
        1. Assemble a team of mercenaries. Inform and brief the “General” about his (Shannon’s) plans. The surprise is at the end of the book.
        2. Plan procurement of Equipments, Uniforms, Dinghies, Arms, ammunition and a  boat to travel to Zangaro
    3. Acquire communication equipment (Communication is the heart of project management)
    4. Plan training for people 
    5. In short “Plan Resource management (human and physical)
    6. So the “project charters” (Once again we see two projects going on parallel and with opposite aims as stated below.)
      1. For Sir Mason – get Zangaro and after that get the mining concession cheap for 100,000 British Sterling pounds (p161)
      2. For CAT Shannon- Get the republic for Sir Mason in 100 days (p161) – as seen by Sir Mason. His own project to hand over Zangaro to the “General”.
      3. For both parties, there is an agreed budget, schedule, defined key stakeholders, identified assumptions and constraints. Risk for Sir Mason – (1) money, (2) failure. Risk for Shannon – (1) Capture and imprisonment or (2) his and his team’s lives, (3)  Being caught while wither purchasing or transporting arm and ammunitions and (4) Russians may interfere and sabotage the entire project.
    7. Planning
      1. Acquiring human and physical resources
        1. People – 4 mercenaries and “General’s” Soldiers from Sierra Leon port
        2. Guns, Mortars, Bazookas, Ammunition
        3. Dinghies, Uniforms, ready to eat food
        4. Boat to accommodate 20 people and ability to travel to Zangaro
        5. More ….
    1. Execution
      1. All procurement actions. Tasks are assigned. Purchases are made and different places in the same city and in different cities in different countries. Merchandise, especially guns, is hidden in the most creative way (pp310-311). 
      2. All material including guns, bullets clothing is loaded at Marseilles. 
      3. Collect Mortars and Bazookas from Ploce (pronounced Plochay) in Czechoslovakia.
      4. Pick “General’s” soldiers at Sierra Leon.
      5. Train them till they reach Zangaro
      6. In the final pages of the execution phase the reader is taken through a roller coaster description of the actual assault
      7. Risks Management – If detected, the project fails. Biggest risk is failure to kill the president of Zangaro. There is, virtually, no back up. For both – Sir Mason and Shannon. Failure to kill falls in “Unknown- Known” category. Inspite of full preparation, the “Russian” element is that “Unknown”. Not only this, there is no work-around feasible. 
      8. Read Cynefin framework (https://www.praxisframework.org/en/library/cynefin-framework) the situation is similar to Chaotic (see figure in the article). The alternative is “Act, Sense and Respond”. Also read the book “Spider’s strategy for a successfully networked business by Dr. Amit Mukherjee (available in SCMHRD library).
      9. The Big Killing – from page 393 onwards, the reader is taken through a roller coaster ride till the surprising end (O. Henry style). 
  1. Lessons learnt – 
    1. People matter, Results count (does this ring a bell?)
    2. Selfless leaders (Shannon) tend to succeed. Selfish (Sir Mason) rarely do.
    3. Trust, clarity of purpose can help. For Sir Mason, greed replaced trust.
    4. Planning with the end in mind (2nd habit of highly successful people -Stephen Covey).

This was also made into a film. Not as successful as Jackal and Odessa file. Part 2 ends here.  In the final part we will study “The Odessa File”. I kept it at the end because one needs to combine information from 4 books – The Outsider, The Odessa File (both by Mr. Forsyth), Rise and fall of the Reich (by William R. Shirer) and The Mossad [by Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal. Mossad is short form for Israel’s Secret Service.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.