All the world’s a Gorilla: Confidence in the work place


And: Book/Workshop Review- Artful Making

My stomach was in tight knots that threatened to force what little breakfast I had eaten to come back up for discussion. I could feel my palms sweating. Not the “just a little moist” sweating. No this was the, “dripping off my hands” sweating. In short I was a complete and utter mess. And the planning meeting was going to start in just fifteen minutes. I’d have to get in front of thirty people and present the entire plan for the release.

I’d tried to pawn it off on my boss. No dice. She said it was my time to shine in the spot light. “You’ve worked hard on this, time to get the credit you deserve. I hear the EVP is coming to the meeting.”

Great… Say, Boss, did I mention I’d much rather hide in the background with my Gantt charts? I so didn’t want to face all those people.

The door of my office burst open. Leaping through the door, with a dramatic “Hah, ha!” came Hogarth.  With short, puffy pants, a beaded vest, cape  and a hunk of lace around his neck that made his head look like it was on a dinner plate, he looked like a reject from the Shakespeare in the Park company.

Holding a skull aloft, Hogarth flipped the cape back over his shoulder and declared, loudly. “All the world is a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their…”


Hogarth stopped mid-monologue. Turning towards me, he pouted. “You interrupted the immortal bard.”

“Yes, yes I did.” I waved at the skull, “first of all, the skull is from ‘Hamlet’ and the monologue is from ‘As you like it.’ Second, and way more importantly, why the hell are you doing a monologue in my office!?

“Harumph,” Hogarth grunted. Setting the skull on my desk, he dropped into the spare chair. “Some people have no appreciation for the arts. I bet Lawrence Olivier never got shouted down for doing Shakespeare.”

“Hogarth…” I warned.

Slumping into his seat he continued to pout, “Oh fine. I was only trying to make a point.”

“And that would be?”

Hogarth perked up. “Oh, right. Did you know that the famous Sarah Bernhardt had to be shoved onto stage before every performance? Crippling stage fright, but once she was on stage it all just happened.”

“And the point of that is?”

“You could do worse than to take a theatre class, or at the very least join Toastmasters.”



Two for the price of one:

This blog is a two for one deal. It’s partially a review of Lee Devin and Rob Austin’s book Artful Making  and workshop of the same name. It is also a why on why you need to build your confidence and your presence to be successful.

Before we delve into the review, lets talk about the why.

Do you look forward to speaking in front of a group about as much as you look forward to your next root canal? Well you’re not alone. Some of the most famous actors in history have battled crippling stage fright. The thing is, its probably a good thing to have a little trepidation about public speaking (and large project management meetings are pretty public).  A young actress once confided to Sarah Bernhardt that she never had stage fright before going on stage. Sarah Bernhardt promptly answered: “Don’t worry, it comes with talent.”

This is not unlike bravery and foolishness. A brave man is afraid, but pushes on anyway, with caution. A foolish man isn’t afraid and just blunders on. Being afraid of public speaking isn’t a problem. Letting it stop you from being successful is. Especially when there are many ways to conquer that fear, or at least to soften its voice to a dull roar.

One of the absolutely easiest ways to build the skills needed to speak and present is to join Toastmasters. This international organization is devoted to helping people learn to speak and present. It’s easy to join, it’s easy to participate, it’s easy to become comfortable with yourself.

Toastmasters is excellent for giving skills to be confident with yourself. While I’ve done years of theatre, I still participate in Toastmasters to keep my skills honed and I still learn new things all the time.

If you want to move beyond confidence and into having a truly powerful speaking presence and the ability to quickly think on your feat, then I recommend taking a theatre class.

I had the great fortune to get involved with theatre when I was young. I got into it because it was fun and I was too young to know I should be scared of the audience (see the Sarah Bernhardt quote above). I certainly didn’t think doing improv street theatre would help me in a career I didn’t even envision being in two decades later.

Theatre taught me how to speak to be heard, memorization, posture, movement and most importantly, confidence. All tools that would be so very valuable in my career as a project manager.  I’ve presented at trade shows in front of 3000 person audiences and didn’t blink an eye. I’ve never had someone say “could you repeat that, I couldn’t hear you.” And I’ve been told many times I have a “commanding presence.” All of these I credit to the years I spent doing theatre.

Which brings me to Artful Making, the book and the workshop.

The Book:

With a forward by Dr. Eric Schmidt, chairman and former CEO of Google, the book had a powerful endorsement going for it right away. Google and Apple may not be perfect, but few can argue that they don’t understand how to run a business.

The What:

Artful Making compares the creative process used by acting companies with that of  Agile software development. It used direct examples from theatre productions and compared them to business practices and even NASA projects to demonstrate the principles that the artful process isn’t restricted to the stage.   It also sets out to provide a direct comparison and understanding of the artist and the knowledge worker.

The Good:

If you believe even a little in Agile or rapid development, then this book will resonate. The stories of the theatre company, in action, are fun to read and the message they deliver slips under your skin almost before you realize it. It’s not all theatre either. They use the Apollo 13 mission in two examples and it really goes to show that Agile isn’t new, just the word is. I came away from reading the book with a fresh mindset on the Agile philosophy as well as a some useful additions to my vocabulary that will help explaining the value of Agile.

The Bad:

It’s a text book- Devin and Austin both have teaching backgrounds and the book is laid out like a classic text book. Reading it I was very reminded of the Winston Churchill quote on giving a speech “Tell the audience what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you’ve said.” While the content was powerful, the format of the book could have been much more engaging. Having heard Devin speak in person, it’s not the material but the format that makes the book a difficult read to slog through.

No actionables- The book is long on theory and examples but short on take aways you can use. Not every book has to be the next “Step by step guide to whatever” but I was expecting more based on the description of the book.

The Conclusion:

Still very much worth the read, just go in with your expectations set. This is a theory and understanding book which will get your mind thinking in new ways. It is not the next “how to” book.

The Workshop:

The What:

The Artful Making workshop is an eight hour session that keeps you moving nearly the whole time. Don’t worry about wearing comfortable shoes, you won’t be wearing them much.

Lee’s workshop is based on the acting concept of “Control by Release.” He starts with a simple little demonstration. Holding a pen tightly in his hands, he says “I’m in control of this pen. It does what ever I want it to do.” He waves it around in a stiff, Bob Dole-like, grip while he talks. Then he holds his hand out over the ground and drops the pen. “I’m still in control of this pen. It did exactly what I wanted it to do when it fell to the ground.” Actors use this technique to “let go” in order to be in control of their art.”

Lee then walks the workshop through a series of various exercises that get you up and out of your chair and challenge your comfort zones. Between these he reviews the concepts, the learning and the outcomes with a mixture of theatre examples, business examples and some science tossed in for good measure. Every leader should understand the concept of “Mirror Neurons” or as we normal folks call it, “Monkey See, Monkey Do.”

It’s not a class for the meek. You are going to be challenged, you are going to do things that initially feel really silly and you are going to walk away from the exercises with a new found respect for your own ability to do.

The Good:

Even with fifteen years of acting experience, I came away from the workshop with a renewed confidence, a greater focus and a better understanding for how the creative mind works. The ability to see how my team thinks and the confidence to not worry about what people think about me will make me a stronger leader and more effective.

The interactions with the other attendees are as valuable as the workshop itself. The debrief sessions, after the exercises, were enlightening, and educational. I felt like I could have tackled anything with my fellow attendees. If a team went through this workshop, together, I wonder how much more effective that team would be.

The Bad:

Limited actionables- Between the concentration exercise and the suggestions I got from other attendees, I came away with more hard actionables than I did with the book. Unfortunately, as Lee himself even says, this workshop just scratches the surface.

The Conclusion:

If you go into the workshop with the expectation that it is about making yourself more confident and a stronger leader and it won’t be any kind of magic set of tools for managing a team, then the workshop is well worth it. Lee challenges your edge and pushes you – in a positive way – farther than I think I’ve ever been pushed in a single day.

As a project manager, manager or leader, this course will give you the confidence to face even the toughest teams. That confidence will show through and make you more effective.

And you know how I feel about being effective…

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


No one expects the Gorilla Retrospective

Jake was pinned to his seat by the spotlight’s intense beam. “Where were you when the code check-in introduced four P1 bugs?”

“I, uh, what?” Jake stammered.
I spun the spotlight and speared Bob with its white light. “The requirements document failed to take into account the Fergusson account. Why?”
Bob shifted in his seat. “It was Jane’s fault, she didn’t file a sales report for Fergusson!”
Jane’s mouth dropped open and she reached for her cellphone. Somehow I didn’t think she planned to text Bob with it. Not from the way she was holding it over her head.
Now I was getting somewhere. This post-mortem was finally getting to the bottom of things.
But before I could turn the spotlight towards Jane, a figure leaped onto the table and blocked my view. Jumping back, I looked up at the strange visage before me. Yards of red satin swirled about, all but obscuring the figure beneath it. A red galero covered the figure’s head, its deep crimson so dark it nearly blended with the black hair that lay beneath it. The darkness of satin and hair offset the brilliant white teeth of my interloper, making him suddenly recognizable.
Hogarth struck a preposterous pose and declared, “No one expects the Gorilla Retrospective!”

The Post-Mortem:
If you have ever sat through a grueling multi-hour project post-mortem, you probably wished for the inquisition to sweep in and put you out of your misery. The very term means “after death.” What a delightfully pleasant term for this meeting. Let us examine the corpse of the project and see what killed it. Let’s not trouble ourselves with the fact that the project actually shipped and is a success. No, that would be pointless.
The purpose of the meeting is to tear apart the project and find everything that went wrong. As the project manager, you will assemble a mammoth document that goes into sickening detail. Even if you tell people “we aren’t here to blame anyone”, blame will be assigned and buses will be thrown on top of people (or something like that).
And when it’s all over, the report is dutifully filed in some file cabinet (real or virtual) and promptly forgotten. No one goes back and reviews it. No one wants to remember the painful experience of exhuming a successful project for failures.
A rose by any other name:
Okay so we won’t call it a post mortem. How about lessons learned or a retrospective? Yeah, that’s the ticket. Now who’s fault was it that we shipped with no user documentation?
You can slap lipstick on the pig and it will still be a pig. Changing the name of something, but not how you go about doing it, is just going to make folks dislike the new name as much as the old.
So many companies look back on their projects to find what went wrong and fail to try and do better the next time.
Break off that rear view mirror:
I’ve met no small amount of people who think the George Santanya quote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” means we have to live in that history. Relive every mistake and wrong to determine exactly why it happened.
Not so. The horses are already out of the barn. Grilling the ranch hand on why he left the door open isn’t going to do much. It doesn’t get the horses back and it doesn’t really do anything about the future. Manager Tools recently did a podcast called “There is no why in feedback.” The Feedback Model is a manager tool for communicating about both the good and not so good things your directs do. The big key to it is that it doesn’t focus at all on the past behavior. It just focus on the future.
 An example:
“Don, can I give you some feedback? <wait for answer> “When you are late to the meeting, we start late and can’t finish the agenda. This means not everyone gets a chance to be heard. Do you think you could change that next time?
Read the last sentence again. “Next time.” The manager doesn’t dwell on the previous issue, instead he dwells on it not happening again.
And that’s the secret to a great retrospective. Focus on the future. Don’t assign blame. Don’t dissect every problem. Don’t get lost in the spilt milk. Focus on doing better the next time.
Forward looking:
When I do a retrospective I pull out another tool from my Manager Tools bag. On the left side of the white board I write “What Went Well.” On the right side I write “Things to Look At.”
The latter is important and I always stress it. TLA isn’t about blame, it isn’t about why, it isn’t even about negative. It is simply things we want to look at for the future. This can mean you end up with things people would generally refer to a “positive” on the Things to Look At side. After a good retrospective, I often have lines drawn from items on the WWW side to the TLA side. Things that were not part of the normal process, that had a good impact and the team wants to do it again.
The next step is to lay down the brain storming rules. When using the brain storming rules there is no “No”, “But”, or “I don’t agree.” Brain storming is a safe zone where anyone can throw out anything and there will be no discussion, no argument and anything goes. If someone yells out “Pepperoni Pizza,” my only response is “Is that a ‘Went Well’ or a ‘Things to Look At’?”
When you’re done collecting your WWW-TLA you then give everyone something to vote with. Small teams can use markers, larger teams work well with stickers or even post its. Let everyone vote two or three times on the TLA side. Then you tally up the votes and you’ve got your top things to look at changing for the next time. Short, sweet, to the point and very effective.
Don’t make your retrospectives a full court trial. Don’t dwell on the past. Do make it safe for people to reflect. Do focus on the future.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Project Manager
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

Gorilla Spam- Not appetizing, Not good practice

Or- How not to be a Twitter Sinner

Matthew W. Jackson

Photo by Matthew W. Jackson

My computer finished resuming with a happy chirp. In seconds it was pulling down data from the internet and my applications were all madly updating. Taking a slug of coffee I popped open Tweetdeck and looked to see what gems the night’s rest had produced. Two minutes later I’d already pushed out at least a dozen retweets, it was a banner day for tweets.  

“Whoa there, Tex, slow down with that keyboard. Do you know how fast you’re tweeting there?” 

I didn’t bother to look at Hogarth. He was no doubt looming behind me with a disapproving scowl on his face, that’s what a gorilla in the room does. I shrugged, “about a dozen in the last two minutes.” 

My gorilla stepped close enough for me to see his reflection in my monitor. He was counting on his fingers. “About a dozen? So you’re saying that you are pushing out a tweet every 10 seconds? You do know that it takes on average five to eight seconds just to read a tweet? You actually want people to pay attention?” 

“Hogarth,” I said. “I’ve got just a few minutes to retweet here, before I have to get to work. I have to go fast.” 

Hogarth grunted. “You remember Tommy, the engineer?” 

I shuddered, “Oh god, he used to write emails in the middle of the night. By the time I got in the office, I’d have twenty emails from him.” 

Hogarth nodded. “And how many of them did you read?” 

Ouch…  Okay, Hogarth had a point. I threw up my hands, “Okay, fine! So I I’ll cut back to one tweet a minute.” 

I turned back to my computer. Giving a sigh I watched my clock tick down a full sixty seconds. As the second hand swept past the 12 I clicked on a tweet and selected the retweet option. With a satisfied grunt I hit enter. “There!” 

“Don’t you even read them?” 

Shaking my head, I said “These are pure gold, I only follow the best, I don’t need to actually read them.” I pointed at my screen, “Look at this one. It’s from @PMUberGuru. This guy pulls down high five figures for a one hour speaking engagement. I don’t need to read his stuff, it’s guaranteed to be good stuff!” 

Hogarth gave a grunt of surprise. “Well that’s interesting.” 


“This email I just got,” Hogarth said.  

I spun about in my chair, “what email?” I began only to stop before I finished the thought. 

Hogarth had a banana shaped device in his hands. It was lying flat in his palm and split open down the middle. He pointed at the device.”iBanana,” 

Giving me enough time to roll my eyes he continued. “It’s an email from @PMUberGuru. Seems his Twitter account was hacked and the hacker sent out tweets pointing to some really nasty malware web sites. You know the kind, soon as you hit the page its trying to convince you your computer crashed or something, just click this button to reboot your computer.” 

The sheer insanity of Hogarth using a banana shaped phone was quickly shoved to the side as the full impact of his words sunk in. 

“Oh…. Crap…” 



Are you a Twitter spammer sinner? 

TSSS- Twitter Spammer Sinner Syndrome. So like any good, social media using, project manager I follow the #PMOT hash tag. It has been a source of some truly great project management insights. Unfortunately, I often wonder if it is worth the effort. Much like a needle in a haystack, you have to really hunt for those gems. And when I have to hunt for useful information in a Twitter feed, then it’s not really worth it. 

One evening I was working late. I could tell that this one project manager had just fired up his computer (maybe in meetings all day, maybe he’s in AsiaPac). In the course of five minutes he’d retweeted close to thirty tweets.  With the settings on my Tweetdeck that meant that just about when one tweet was fading from my screen, it was replaced by another (I’ve since change Tweetdeck to only show new tweets every ten seconds and am considering disabling notifications all together). At that point I’d had enough and I closed my Tweetdeck. When I fired it up the next morning and scrolled back through #PMOT there was an hour’s time period where this PM was the only tweets on the hash tag and there were a lot of them. 

You know what happened? I don’t even give his tweets a second glance and I certainly have no plans to ever follow him directly.  When I see his picture, I just look to the next tweet. He may be a truly brilliant project manager, but he spammed me and that’s just not okay. 

Spamming is the first sin of Twitter. 

I think there are at least two other cardinal sins and I’m not alone: 

Sin #2: Multi Blasting

Irene Koehler first put words to this sin for me. In her blog, “Connecting Twitter to LinkedIn: Just Say No,” she gives an impassioned argument on why you shouldn’t have your tweets automatically post to LinkedIn.  I can’t agree with her enough on this and it also goes for doing the same with linking tweets to Facebook. It is not uncommon that if you are following someone in one Social Media, you follow them other places. They are all different communication methods and the last thing I really want to do is see the exact same post in LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. 

More importantly, LinkedIn is about professional status and networking. I do not need to know where you just had dinner. I’ve removed people from my LinkedIn network for this. 

Related to this is Foursquare. I’m not on Foursquare. I don’t want to be on Foursquare and I absolutely don’t care if you just became mayor of Costco. If I want to follow your Foursquare progress, I can add a Foursquare thread to my Tweetdeck. I’ve unfollowed people who tweet their Foursquare. 

Sin #3: Twitter is not a bulletin board

I hadn’t even realized this was bothering me until I read Tim Tyrell-Smith’s (Tim’s Strategy web site for career tips and advice) recent blog; “Don’t Follow Me on Twitter – Talk To Me 

Tim points out this sin wonderfully well, but I’d like to offer up an analogy of what is going on here. 

I walk into a coffee shop. Ignoring all the patrons in the shop I wander over to the bulletin board and tack up my lost dog poster. Then I walk out of the coffee shop and go repeat the process at a half dozen other shops. Meanwhile, back in the coffee shop, a lady finishes paying for her coffees and heads out to her car where her husband waits. I helpfully hold open the door for her, before heading off to my next place to post flyers.  When she gets into the car, she asks her husband “so should we make flyers for this found dog?” The dog in the back seat just wags his tail.  

Twitter is becoming the bulletin board of the internet. People don’t post to have conversations, they post to convey information. They use it as a sign post to their blogs (I have been guilty of this). Instead of being a destination, Twitter are the signs on the side of the freeway. Gas, Food, Lodging, Blog posts… 

I maintain two Twitter accounts, one is for my professional project management and the other is a cross between personal and for my freelance fiction writing. As I examined my two accounts I found my professional account was filled with sign posts. Whether it was myself or the people I follow, the tweet feed was filled almost completely with posts to other places. There are no conversations. In contrast, my private feed is filled with dialogue, interaction and “community.” 

Twitter has the potential to be a powerful communication medium. Unfortunately we are in danger of it turning into a mind numbing information pipe. Ever heard the expression, drinking from the fire hose?   

Make Twitter, “cocktails with friends”, not, “drinking from the fire hose”. 

Leave the Spam to the professionals:

Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Project Manager
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

The Gorilla Dollar

Or- Are you making the most of your time
I was elbow deep in the case of a server. I’d almost gotten the broken fan free, if only it would just…
“Wha’cha doing?” Hogarth asked. Let me tell you, when an 800 pound gorilla starts sounding like a Fireside Girl, it certainly gets your attention.
Looking up from the computer I said “Oh, great, your just in time. Pass me that screwdriver, will you?” I pointed at the tool box on the table.
“Why?” my gorilla asked.
“Because I need it to get this fan out.”
“Because the fan is busted!” I was starting to get annoyed with the three-year old style question and answer.
Hogarth wandered by me and took a seat in my desk chair. “Why are you fixing a broken fan?”
Stomping over to the table, I snatched up the screwdriver. Speaking very slowly I said “because the fan is broken. If the fan is broken, the computer overheats. If it overheats, it shuts down. If it shuts down, then the server doesn’t work.”
Hogarth pulled out a banana. “Uh huh. How long you been at it?”
I glanced at my watch. “About ninety minutes. These new server chassis are a bugger to open.”
Waving his half-pealed banana in my direction Hogarth said, “Wouldn’t it take the IT guys about ten minutes to do that?”
I shrugged, “Yeah, but I can do it. I don’t want to bother them.”
He nodded, thoughtfully chewing on his banana. “Ever hear of the ‘Bill Gate’s Dollar?”
“The what?”
Hogarth moved over to the white board and started drawing a graph. “It was a big concept back in the 90’s. Folks were so obsessed with how rich Bill Gates was, they started figuring out things like how much money would have to be lying on the ground for it to be worth it to him to stoop over and pick it up.” Hogarth continued mapping out the graph. “Back in ’97 there had to be more than $600 dollars lying on the ground for it to be worth Bill’s time to pick it up. He’d actually lose money if he counted a stack of $100 bills.”
“Ouch!” I snatched my hand back from the innards of the server. Sticking my bloodied finger in my mouth I mumbled. “What’s the point?”
Hogarth gave me another of those “are you really that dense” looks. You’re paid <beeep> to be the program manager for this group. Should you be spending two hours fixing a server when someone else can do it in ten minutes? What are you not doing?”
Okay, so maybe I still do have some of my old tech support skills. Maybe I can still fondly remember when I could field strip a computer in about five minutes. And maybe my ego doesn’t want to admit I’ve forgotten more about tech support then I thought. But most importantly the question is, “Am I being effective?”
It took me a hard time to get this one right. As a project manager, part of our job is to do the work no one else wants to. We are the facilitator, the remover of roadblocks, the maker of status reports, heck we make coffee if it will make the team more effective. But effective is the key word here. Everything we do should make the team, and ourselves, more effective. If it doesn’t then do something about it.
Early on in my project management career I had one over riding rule. “Make sure it gets done, then find out who should own it.” This certainly made me popular. You knew that if something fell into the cracks, I’d be there to rescue it. But did it need rescuing? Was I the right person to rescue it? While I was saving the cat stuck in the tree, was the project burning to the ground?
Does it need rescuing?:  Manager Tools developed a Koan around this very concept. The essential nutshell to this is when you get assigned some new, big, responsibility you need to look at the small things your doing and decide what of these can ‘fall to the floor’ (alternatively, if you have directs, what duties can you delegate to someone below you).  It is entirely possible that this task doesn’t need to be done.
Mike Auzenne gives a great example of this. He took over a large division at his company. One of his jobs was to make the division more efficient. Sitting on a table in his office was this huge report that he had full time employees working to compile. Only he didn’t know of anyone that actually used the report. So he stopped generating the report and moved those employees to something more effective. No on ever complained about the report stopping.
Are you the right person to rescue it: If you’re really lucky, you have direct reports. If so then use a simple rule. “If there is a task that both I and one of my directs can do, then I should have my direct do it.” Your typical servant-leader project manager has a little tougher judgment call, but it still needs to be made. Go back to that effectiveness measure. If doing it yourself will make the team, or you, more effective then do it. If it won’t, find someone else to do it. This can even mean you end up putting it on your team. You’re not there to make all the hard stuff go away, you’re there to remove the roadblocks that they can’t do so effectively. Sure you coded back in the 90’s, but are you the right guy to debug the installer? Is there someone better suited?
Is the project burning down?: “Hey look! I just finished an end to end architectural diagram of the project. Took me a week, but man does it look good.” That’s great, and while you were doing that, the engineers missed three major status updates, failed to give a code drop to QA and the product manager didn’t even want the feature they just built.
I’ve personally run into this one thanks to the “Shiny” factory. Some activity that I really shouldn’t have been doing, but it was compelling in some way. While obsessing on this minor thing, I let major things slip between the cracks.
I firmly believe the project manager is there to make the team more effective. That often requires the project manager to step in and do things that need to be done. But before you do, ask yourself three simple questions:
“Does it really need doing?”
“Can someone else doing this better?”
“Is there anything else more important right now?”
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Project Manager
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP