But I like cake Gorilla

I look up from my computer screen, grinning. “So, Hogarth, how can you tell the project manager in the room?”

My Gorilla turns from the mini Christmas tree on my bookshelf. Holding the tiny glass ornament in his big hand he cocks a hairy eyebrow, “How?”

“By the knives in his back!” I grin merrily at the self deprecating joke.

Hogarth cocks his head to the side, peering at me quizzically, “But I like cake.”

“What?” I return Hogarth’s quizzical gaze. “Hogarth, what are you talking about?”

“I like cake, I’d rather use those knives to cut up the project end celebration cake.”

And my retelling of a classic project management joke runs smack dab into the practicality of my Gorilla. In his own cake loving way he reminds me that there is more to a project than earning initial trust and delivering the project. In the 21st century, nine times out of ten, you have to get that team turned around and do it all over again.

Suddenly the joke loses its appeal. Not because we project managers can’t make fun of ourselves, but because of the grains of truth in the joke. I touch on this in my 90 Day Gorilla post, but it goes beyond that first 90 days. If you are not constantly working on your relationship with your team, you will soon find that team wants nothing more than to see you go away. Sure you’ve helped their efficiency, you’ve helped their profitability, you’ve helped their exposure, but if they don’t want to work with you, you’ve not helped yourself and the team won’t work as well the next time.

Mark Horstman talks about MBWA, Management By Walking Around. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but is a great example in a nutshell. The key point on this is if you do not constantly work to make sure you have a good relationship, then at the end of the project you will be the one with the knife in your back, instead of using that knife to cut the cake.

Joel BC
Veteran, the Project Manager wars
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

Who is Hogarth? Read Blog 001 to find out all about my personal gorilla.

The Holiday Job Hunt Gorilla

[This blog is dedicated to Skip La Fetra, facilitator of the Silicon valley PMI job search breakfast. He led a great meeting that tackled this gorilla in a wonderful way and inspired this blog.]

The jingle of bells battered my skull like a thousand tiny anvils being dropped from orbit. Grabbing my skull I turned from my desk to take in a sight I immediately wished I could erase from my memory.

“Hogarth! What in the Sam Hill are you doing?”

My gorilla looked down at the red velveteen jacket he wore, shaking his head as he did so. With the jingling of his bell bestrewed hat nearly overpowering his words, he said “Well I admit old St. Nick shares the red theme with Bealzabub, but isn’t it taking things a bit far to accuse him of being devil and not elf?”

I rolled my eyes, trying not to let Hogarth’s verbal judo distract me from exactly why he was dressed up like a Christmas in the jungle reject. “Why the heck are dressed like that?”

“For the holiday party” he replied, his tone so bubbly it could make Champagne feel impotent.

“Party?” I sighed. “Hogarth, I’m not going to any party.”

“You’re not?” he replied crestfallen. “So back to pinging your network contacts and checking job boards?”

I threw up my hands, “What’s the point? It’s the middle of December, I’m not going to get a job now. I just want to wash my hands of all this, try and enjoy Christmas and I’ll get back to looking in January.”

Now imaginary gorillas should be fairly benign, after all you’ve thought them up, right? So when he walked over and smacked me upside the head I was understandably surprised. “Ow! What was that for?”

“To snap you out of your Dickensian moroseness ” he said. “Cause I’m the 800 pound gorilla in the room and I’m not leaving until you deal with your attitude.”

And there I was, having literally been hit over the head by the “Holiday Job Hunt Gorilla”

I have had the experience of being unemployed over the US holiday season (Oct 31st to Jan 1st), twice in my professional career. The two experiences were stark opposites of each other and show a clear example of why the holidays is the time to Speed Up, not Slow Down your job hunt.

In my first experience , I all but hid from my unemployment, trying to deny it was there and giving all sorts of justifications to not make even a token effort to look for work. I also completely ignored every bit of advice I give in my own career insurance blog. Not only did I end up hiding from my lack of a job through Christmas, when the new year came along I had lost all my momentum, all my drive. I eventually landed a new job, but it was more luck than my own actions. I was out of work for the better part of a year that time, an experience I never wanted to repeat again in my life.

In my second experience I was laid off from my company on Sept 30th. I started my new job on Feb 2nd, nearly four months exactly. More importantly, between Dec 20th and Jan 1st I was speaking with three different companies and even interviewed in the week between Christmas and New Years. I not only followed my own advice (learned almost word for word from manager-tools.com) but I sped up my efforts over the holidays. I took advantage of the hidden benefits of the season to accelerate myself into a great job.

No, I think the holidays can be argued as being the best time to search for a job, or to at the least close in on that next job prospect. There is a natural spirit of giving and kindness in the season, that is not limited to department store Santas and It’s a Wonderful Life reruns.

During a Silicon Valley PMI Job Search Breakfast the attendees came up with the following, excellent, list of things to do in the holiday season.

– Don’t slow down. This is not the time to slow your pace, but to increase it.
– Most companies operate their Fiscal Calendar from Jan to Dec, so their year is ending. This means their new budget year starts in January. They already know their budget and likely have started their job reqs.
– Holiday parties are not a time to bemoan, but a time to network with friends and colleagues. Make sure your business cards are up to date and plentiful.
– It is the season of giving, take advantage of people’s natural tendency to be more open and giving to approach them.
– Be prepared for rapid response “can you come in tomorrow?” This is very common in the holidays.
– Do NOT underestimate the power of the thank you note! If you were good about sending “Thank You” notes during your first interviews then you can follow up with a Christmas cards to reopen your communication with the hiring firm.
– The holidays give you a readymade excuse to reach out to an old colleague who you fell out of touch with. Haven’t talked to Bob in a year? Send him a holiday card and reconnect, then stay connected.
– If you get a job sent to you and it is not for you, think of who you know that might fit. Keep up your spirit of giving and helping and it will come back to you.

In the end, it boils down to a very simple mantra “Don’t Slow Down, Do Speed Up and remember all your job hunt and networking basics.”

Wishing you all the happiest and most successful of holiday seasons!

Joel BC
The Gorilla Talker
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

Who is Hogarth? Read Blog 001 to find out all about my personal gorilla.

PM Mini Humor

How many PMs does it take to change a light bulb?….

I’ve always believed that a project manager who can’t laugh at themselves is a project manger who’s headed for serious heart burn. So with that…

…Two, one to change the light bulb and one to tell the other how much faster it would have gone using Agile.

Project Gorillas are Subject Matter Experts

[Non-legal mumbo jumbo: This piece was inspired by a conversation with fellow PMs at a Silicon Valley PMI job search networking breakfast. That conversation inspired me to write this little piece of fiction to bring my revelations to light. This blog goes the next step beyond the “Too many hat” blog that I did in February.]

“Well it’s rather complicated”, the words were spoken by the pleasantly smiling engineering director. Having heard this lead in more than once, I instantly translated it to “I don’t expect you to understand, you don’t have a double masters in computer science and physics.” Not that I said anything, I smiled back serenely and listened as he dove into a highly technical discussion that lost me in the first three sentences. But that was fine,

I leaned back in my chair and watched as he grabbed a whiteboard pen to start diagramming.

As he launched into a multi-level architectural diagram, in handwriting that would have confused a pharmacist, I glanced over at Hogarth. My gorilla was on the other side of the room, happily mapping out a Rube Goldberg machine. As near as I could tell it was a machine designed to give the Engineering director a wet willy through the use of canned air and plant sprinkler. Hogarth had also heard this speech before.

 A couple minutes later the director sat down, a look of satisfaction on his face. I looked up at the whiteboard, looked back at my notes. I then turned and looked at one of the software managers. She and I were old colleagues and I trusted her input completely. She’d already sent a status update that had given a high-level status. Quoting it almost exactly I said, “So you can’t get the network layer to talk to the application layer and you think it will take four weeks to fix?”

 “Well if you want to boil it down to that…”

 “Yes, yes I do,” I said, looking at Hogarth’s satisfied banana grin.

SME translate to “You Don’t Understand”
Spend a little time on any of the job search websites and you’ll see a very common trend, in Project Management job descriptions (Edit 2017- as well as Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches). It is couched in various ways, but essentially it boils down to PM jobs “requiring” expertise in whatever field the product belongs in. Working on an ERP deployment? Then they want you to be an ERP expert, preferably someone who’s coded and deployed. Building the next best handheld device to use Android? Then they are probably asking for a degree in electrical engineering or at least mechanical engineering.

In the end, it typically boils down to a long list of very project management related skills, communication, organizations, facilitation, working with remote teams, etc., all topped off by a cherry of expertise in some highly specific job field (There is really a field called Human Ecology Engineering). The end result being jobs that become very tailor-made to a specific job or industry. Are you the best project manager there has ever been at your computer game company? That’s great, but you’ve got no manufacturing experience so there is no way you could be a good project manager for a new line of toys. You do not have subject matter expertise, so you are not qualified. Even my beloved Manager Tools reinforces this concept to some degree. They describe three methods of management power, Role, Influence, and Expertise. It is usually implied that expertise is SME knowledge in the industry or product you are working on.

My challenge to all this is simple. As a project manager, I am a Subject Matter Expert, in Project Management. (Edit 2017- And now, as an agile coach, an expert in agile transformations).

A Project Manager’s SME knowledge is in getting a project from inception to launch within the bounds of the project’s constraints and while keeping the team from flying apart like wine glass shattering when it hits the floor.

Let me explain a bit more- Project Management has officially been around since, at least, the first US Nuclear submarines. Such massive projects with very tight dependencies between teams needed someone who could oversee the whole thing. These first PMs were usually taken from heads of a department or some senior engineer. He might not understand the full workings of the nuclear reactor, but he was a PhD. in naval structural engineering (or vis-a-versa).

Moving through the close of the 20th century, project managers were typically pulled from a ‘technical’ field. The majority of PMs tended to be from engineering backgrounds of some kind. A large chunk of the rest rose up from the ranks of whatever they had been doing. A Logistics Planner had served on the front lines of shipping for years, before being tapped to coordinate a global logistics plan.

It was not until the close of the 20th that this really began to shift. We started to see PMs who came out of business backgrounds. They still very much tended to be experts in a field. If you hadn’t worked in insurance, being a PM at a risk management firm was pretty much a no go.

It hasn’t been until the 21st century that we have started to see Project Managers as a truly distinct discipline of its own. In the early 2000’s the CEO of PMI met with a major university about Project Management (Thanks to Cornelius Fitchner for his great podcast series where I learned this). The university was adamant that Project Management was a course, not a discipline. Today a Google search for Project Management Bachelor’s Degree yields over 6.4 million hits.

Today we are finally starting to see that Project Management is an area of expertise. The art/science of guiding something from start to finish is a critical and important as the art/science of laying out a PCBA board for the next great DVR product. The PM doesn’t need to know the details of PCBA board layout. What he needs is the vocabulary to communicate with the guy who does know about PCBA and the mutual trust of a well-communicating team.

At the very fundamentals, I believe that a good Project Manager can manage any project. There are of course the typical caveats on “any” but I truly believe that PMs are far more industry portable than most industries seem to be ready to concede.

I’ve had this conversation with several people in the last couple of years. As you can imagine I’ve met with a fair amount of resistance to the concept. I had an IT PM adamantly insist that if you weren’t an expert in IT infrastructure or some major component of IT, then there was no way you could be a PM in IT.

“Kind of like a software PM going to work for a hard disk manufacturer?”


I may not convince everyone. That being said, I am confident in my Project Management skills. How can I not be? I started as a Customer Support rep giving game hints for the Nintendo game console. I’ve worked in handheld devices, mobile phones, consumer software, voice recognition, enterprise storage software, virtualization, and more. My most current job? I’m that former Software PM doing program management at a hard drive company. One of the best compliments I have ever gotten was given by my current boss. “I hired you because you don’t have twenty years of HDD baggage. I needed someone who would focus on the project.”

On the front lines,
Joel BC
Veteran, the Project Manager wars
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

Who is Hogarth? Read Blog 001 to find out all about my personal gorilla.