Resource management lessons from the freecell card game

by Qais Mujeeb

Have you ever played a game of FreeCell on your computer? Like me, did you find a similarity with Resource management at work – particularly in projects? Think of the game again as you go through this post. For those who have no idea what I am talking about, just read through.

FreeCell is a card game available on most computers or app stores. You get the pack of 52 cards arranged randomly in a few columns. You have to rearrange them in four sets with the kings at the bottom and aces at the top. There is a condition, though – no two adjoining cards in the sequence can be of the same color. For example, when you start arranging cards, you should have a red color king of diamonds or hearts and queen of clubs or spades over it, and then the next should be a jack of diamonds or hearts. You get four free cells on top left to move, shift, or rearrange the cards. The number of cards you can move together is one more than the number of free cells you have at that point in time. So, if you have four free cells, you can move a stack of five cards from one column to another. Ok, now that I am done explaining the rules, let’s move to the challenges.

Taking each game as a unique challenge just as a project, your goal is to solve the game in the shortest possible time with the least number of moves as possible. A game might reach a stage where you can’t go forward if you don’t wish to lose the game. Then, you have to roll back to some older stage in the game and take a different approach. Obviously, it costs you time, effort, and the number of moves that would be added due to the change.

In any project, when you want to try crashing or fast-tracking, you need extra resources. That’s what you do with the free cells. You use them to free up space, remove roadblocks, and, most importantly, you make the best use of specialized resources just when they are needed. You don’t want these important people not being utilized because they are stuck elsewhere.

The key lies in “planning,” even in a leisure game such as Freecell. Each game is ‘different and unique’ in terms of challenges and roadblocks. You have to start by looking at the bigger picture: locate the cards you need to start sequencing. Most importantly, find the aces in your game as you have to free them up first. Once you visualize your steps and moves, you are ready with a project plan to go for the kill. Some good planning can save you from having to roll back your moves and spend extra time and cost. That’s what Project Management is – managing the resources effectively to complete a project successfully in a defined budget, within the specified time, and with an agreed quality standard.


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