Project Business and Chinese Stratagems, Pt. 5


Stratagems to Win Ground


Project Business Management


By Oliver F. Lehmann

Munich, Germany

“Rumor is a pipe blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures.”
William Shakespeare[1]


This article discusses stratagems 25 to 30 of the ancient 36 Chinese Stratagems (also known as sānshíliù jì, 三十六計). The focus of these stratagems is on weakening a strong opponent to win a battle or war despite one’s weakness. Applied in Project Business, the intended win may be monetary or have a different nature.

And again, the stratagems come also as a warning: Someone may use them against you to undermine your organization and your project.

The Fifth Set of Stratagems

The first set of six stratagems, carried over from ancient China focused on a situation of strength. The second article of the series, written for professionals in Project Management and even more in Project Business Management[2], looked at six stratagems using deception. The third set included offensive stratagems for attacks. The fourth set of stratagems brought confusion into an adversary’s camp.

In this fifth collection, the focus is on situations when the adversary is stronger and stratagems are used to impair him.

And for these, as for all stratagems described in this series, the article is also a warning: Do not get deceived by others applying them.

The Series of Articles

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

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

The Stratagems to Win Ground

The enemy may be stronger, have more people, and may be better armed. However, using asymmetrical warfare, a weak party may still have a realistic chance to finally win a battle or the war.

In the world of Project Business, one does not necessarily have to be a big player to gain benefits. On the other hand, assuming that as a big player, one is undefeatable may turn into a weakness:

Replace the Beams with Rotten Timber

A house that rests firmly on sturdy posts may be weakened by replacing these posts with rotten wood. An army that is well-led, trained, and equipped may be disorganized and debilitated by malicious gossip and defeatist talk. A society that works well as a system where people act together and people’s obligations and entitlements are in balance may be destabilized through disinformation, conspiracy theories, and divisive slander.

In the year 383 AD, the Chinese states of Qin and Jin were in a tense military standoff with their armies positioned on opposite sides of a river. Neither side was willing to initiate an attack, as crossing the river would have put them in a vulnerable position. The soldiers on both sides were on high alert, anticipating the slightest move from the other side that could trigger a full-blown battle.


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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 author profile below.

How to cite this article: Lehmann, O. F. (2023). Project Business and Chinese Stratagems, Pt. 5: Stratagems to Win Ground, Project Business Management series, PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue XI, November. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/pmwj135-Nov2023-Lehmann-PBM36-Stratagems-part-5.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: https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/oliver-f-lehmann/

[1] Henry IV
[2] (Lehmann, 2018)
[3] (Lehmann, 2023a)
[4] (Lehmann, 2023b)
[5] (Lehmann, 2023c)
[6] (Lehmann, 2023d)