Project Business and Chinese Stratagems, Pt. 3


Stratagems for Attacks


Project Business Management


By Oliver F. Lehmann

Munich, Germany

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War


This article describes stratagems No 13 to 18 of the ancient 36 Chinese Stratagems (sānshíliù jì, 三十六計). They focus on offensive approaches to win a battle. They can also help improve Project Business. And often, they serve as warnings.

More stratagems will be discussed in the coming articles.

The Third Set of Stratagems

In the first set of six stratagems collected in ancient China, the application was for a situation of strength. In this second article of the series, written for professionals in Project Management and even more in Project Business Management[1], the focus of the next six stratagems was on deception.

The third set of stratagems is offensive, these are stratagems that make attacks more likely to succeed.

And for the following explanations, it is again true that they are also warnings: Do not get deceived by others applying them.

The Series of Articles

The stratagems are ordered into six groups, which are each discussed in dedicated article:

  1. Introduction, Stratagems for a position of strength[2] (previous article)
  2. Deceptive stratagems[3] (second article)
  3. Stratagems for attacks (this article)
  4. Stratagems for confusion
  5. Stratagems to win ground
  6. Stratagems in the moment of defeat

The Stratagems for Attacks

In a position of obvious strength, one may want to avoid exhausting resources unnecessarily and taking avoidable risks. The following six stratagems can help win in such situations:

Hit the grass to disturb the snake

In order to gain an upper hand over your adversary or another party in a project, it’s wise to think outside the box and do something that catches their attention.

This unexpected move can prompt them to inadvertently disclose their strategies or location, divert their attention to a specific issue, or spur them into taking action they wouldn’t normally take. Creativity and unpredictability are key to throwing them off their game and piquing their curiosity or making them feel alarmingly uncomfortable.

Furthermore, this stratagem may also serve as a precautionary measure to steer clear of potential hazards: “Don’t hit on the grass, you could disturb the hidden snake”, comparable to “not waking sleeping dogs” in the West.

An example of the application of the stratagem is Benefit Engineering[4]. It is a highly effective technique utilized within the realm of Project Business to resolve problems, even crises, and steer a project toward success. Essentially, contractors apply this technique by thoroughly examining and comprehending the customer’s problems, risks, and unmet business goals, in order to offer a solution that the customer would not be able to achieve on their own.


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Editor’s note: This series of articles is by Oliver Lehmann, author of the book “Project Business Management” (ISBN 9781138197503), published by Auerbach / Taylor & Francis in 2018. See full author profile at the end of this article. A list of the other articles in PM World Journal can be found at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/oliver-f-lehmann.

How to cite this article: Lehmann, O. (2023). Project Business Management and the 36 Chinese Stratagems, Pt. 3, PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue VIII (August). Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/pmwj132-Aug2023-Lehmann-PBM36-Stratagems-3.pdf

About the Author

Oliver F. Lehmann

Munich, Germany


Oliver F. Lehmann, MSc, ACE, PMP, is a project management educator, author, consultant, and speaker. In addition, he is the owner of the website Project Business Foundation, a non-profit initiative for professionals and organizations involved in cross-corporate project business.

He studied Linguistics, Literature, and History at the University of Stuttgart and Project Management at the University of Liverpool, UK, where he holds a Master of Science Degree (with Merit). Oliver has trained thousands of project managers in Europe, the USA, and Asia in methodological project management, focusing on certification preparation. In addition, he is a visiting lecturer at the Technical University of Munich.

He has been a member and volunteer at PMI, the Project Management Institute, since 1998 and served as the President of the PMI Southern Germany Chapter from 2013 to 2018. Between 2004 and 2006, he contributed to PMI’s PM Network magazine, for which he provided a monthly editorial on page 1 called “Launch,” analyzing troubled projects around the world.

Oliver believes in three driving forces for personal improvement in project management: formal learning, experience, and observations. He resides in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, and can be contacted at oliver@oliverlehmann.com.

Oliver Lehmann is the author of the books:

His previous articles and papers for PM World Journal can be found here:

[1] (Lehmann, 2018)
[2] (Lehmann, 2023a)
[3] (Lehmann, 2023b)
[4] (Lehmann, 2017)