Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash

Be humble: A stab on project management

I think it’s healthy to be reminded of who you are from time to time and practice humility. I came across a few project management stories while job searching, and I found them to be humorous and truthful that I’d like to share. This is certainly a sliver of my experience while working as a project manager, so here they are along with my comments:

Story 1

The Hot Air Balloon

A woman was in a hot air balloon. She spotted someone below and lowered closer to the ground to get his attention. She shouted, “Hey, I don’t know where I am. Can you help me?”

The man responded, “You are in a hot air balloon. You’re about twenty feet above the ground, three miles East of the Mississippi River.”

“You must be a Geologist,” the woman replied. “Why yes!” said the man, “How did you know?”.

“Everything you have told me is true, but I do not know what to do with this information. Honestly, I am still lost. You haven’t been any help at all,” she explained.

“Ah, you are a Project Manager,” noted the man.

“Yes, I am a Project Manager. How did you know?” she asked.

“You have no idea where you are or where you are going. You’ve gotten to where you are now due to a lot of hot air. And now you expect me to fix your situation. You are in the same situation now as you were before I came along, but somehow this is my fault!”

The line, “You have no idea where you are or where you are  going,” is like a small slap on the back. I only have 2 years of project managing experience, and a comment like this has enough truth in it that it can’t be ignored. There are instances when I was bs-ing my way through a project, but there’s also plenty of times when I DID know what the hell I was doing.

Yet, this is true. Project managers do not need to have domain knowledge of the project to run it. They need to understand that WHAT – what they are doing. They might have an understanding of HOW they are doing it. However, the project manager might not necessarily need to know the WHY in order to pull the project to completion.

Knowing the WHY is crucial to gaining respect from your peers and partners. I’ve love to know the why’s of everything, but sometimes situations may not allow you that liberty. You have to think and move quickly in a start-up world. So, I’ve taken orders from the Higher Order without asking WHY.

Story 2

3 Cats

A young girl enters a pet shop to buy a cat. The pet shop worker shows her three cats that look identical.

“This cat here costs $1,000,” he explains.

“Why does that cat cost so much?” the girl asks.

“This cat knows how to complete legal research,” the pet shop worker explains.

The girl asks about the cat in the middle, and the pet shop owner explains that the middle cat costs $2,000 because it knows legal research and can win any case.

The girl is curious and asks about the third cat.”That one is $5,000.”

“Well, what can this cat do?” asks the girl.

“Honestly, I have no idea. I have never even seen it do anything at all, but it says it’s a Project Manager.”

Ha! This is a good one and I gave it a chuckle. Project managers might be paid well in the industry. I know I was, and I’m lucky for it.

Truth be told, many project managers have thankless jobs. We do the dirty work that no one would like to do: negotiate contracts, allocate resources, build gantt charts, manage budgets, ask for status updates. Every darn day. If you are one of those project managers who were on the team before taking on the whip, then you’d probably established some level of respect and authority. You might even know how to do the work your team is doing. But do you need to have this prior work experience? No, not necessarily, eh?

This story pokes fun of those project managers who probably don’t contribute much to the action but I’m sure that $5,000 cat does a lot of behind the scenes work many do not know about.

Story 3

The Cannibal

Three cannibals get hired at a factory.

They are welcomed to the company and told to go to the cafeteria as long as they don’t bother the other workers.

The cannibals promise.

A month later the boss comes to see them and tells them all they have been doing a great job, but the janitor is missing. He asks if anyone knows anything about this.

The cannibals shake their heads no.

After the boss leaves the lead cannibal screams at them. “Who is the idiot that ate the janitor?”

One hand slowly rises.

“You idiot!” says the lead cannibal, “we have been eating the project managers so no one would notice and you go and eat the janitor!”

Ha! I gave this one an even bigger chuckle. I don’t know why many project managers are afraid to take vacation/days off because in all honesty, the world will keep spinning whether they are or are not there! I’d hope that the project team would notice that their PjM is missing from action, but come on, a little work appreciation would be nice here.

I do struggle a little with the truth here, though. I was that kind of project manager who only worked with a team when they are assigned a complex project that had many key players or components to the deliverable. The program management team at the start-up I worked at, had program/project managers swoop in and out for projects. Some of us would be more embedded into working teams than others. Because I was the most junior, I was put here and there into different teams, never belonging to any one. I met many different people throughout the company, but I sure wished that I had a home-base where I contributed to their projects more often.

Story 4

The Crow

A raven sat on the edge of a tall branch all day doing absolutely nothing.

A bunny hopping by noticed this and asked the raven if he could do nothing too.

The raven said, “Sure”.

The bunny curled up under the raven and relaxed.

A wolf appeared and swallowed the bunny.

The moral?

To be doing nothing all day, you must be high up.

Someday folks, someday, we can all be high up. 🙂


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