The Angry Gorilla: Emotion is your choice.

Photo from Wikipedia

“I CAN’T BELIEVE THE NERVE!” I stormed into my office, barely catching the door before I slammed it for all it was worth. I compensated for the averted door slam by tossing my notebook across the room. Stalking after it, I noticed Hogarth reclining in the corner of the room. I didn’t even look at him, I was in no mood to have my head shrunk by a pseudo- imaginary gorilla who’d watched one too many Dr. Phil episodes. “Don’t even start, I am NOT in the mood.”
I threw myself into my chair, threatening to topple it over in the process. I glared sightlessly at my computer monitor. I was too agitated to even scan my recent emails. It was all I could do to not grab the monitor and throttle it like I wanted to throttle Bob’s snake-like next. Finally I calmed down enough to scoop my battered notebook up off the floor.

Photo by astrogrl –

Sitting back up I noticed Hogarth again. He was sitting in the corner of the room, not speaking or moving. He just sat there calmly looking in my direction. I snorted and tossed my book on the desk. “Not gonna work, hairball. You can’t fix this with a few pithy sayings and making me twist my mind around to look at itself from behind.”
Hogarth just sat there, unblinking. His placid face betrayed no hint of emotion.
I grunted and turned to my computer. I might as well get some work done.
Five minutes later I threw up my hands in surrender. Turing to the still silent Hogarth I said, “Fine, you win!”
Hogarth didn’t respond. He just laid his hands in thighs and cocked his head to the side.
“The team just demoed the product to the CEO. He was really impressed with how the workflow was improved. He said ‘Best damn idea I’ve seen in a long time.”
Hogarth just blinked. Still I could hear the question. “So? So Bob took credit for it. Complete and total credit for it. The lily livered slime bag had the nerve to take credit for the work!”
Hogarth just looked at me.
I sighed. “Bob’s idea for the workflow was a miserable failure. The team tossed it out and came up with something from complete scratch. Sure it fit Bob’s stated user requirements, but it had nothing to do with Bob’s actual ideas.” I smacked the table in frustration. “And there wasn’t anything I could do about it. If I’d told the real truth, it would have looked like I was tossing Bob under the bus. He may be a spineless product manager, but I’m not going to lower myself to that level.”
I clenched my fists, fighting back the desire to pound on the desk. “Oh he makes me so MAD!”
And then Hogarth finally spoke. “No, he did not make you mad.”
“What?” I stared at my gorilla with blatant incredulity. “I’m furious. I damn near took the door off its hinges and I think I dented my desk. How the hell can you say that Bob didn’t make me angry?”
Hogarth spoke, his voice calm and Yoda-like. “Anger you, Bob did not. Chose to be angry yourself, did you.”
I shook my head, not sure I’d heard Hogarth clearly. “Hogarth, he just took credit for the entire project and you want to tell me he didn’t make me mad?”
My gorilla nodded his head. “Yes.”
“Have you been sniffing the white out? That’s the most ludicrous thing I’ve heard you say all month. How on earth is it he didn’t make me mad?”
Hogarth folded his hands in his lap and leaned back against the wall. Speaking from under half-lidded eyes he said, “between stimulus and response, lies the ability to choose.”
“Really, Hogarth, you need to stop buying self-help books at Kmart. What quack shrink said that?”
Hogarth opened one eye and looked my way. “Stephen Covey.”
Anyone who’s ever said Project Management isn’t a stressful job probably defines fun as “poking hot needles in their eyes.” Project Management can be high stress, high conflict and highly political. Mark Horstman,, points out “What junior employees call politics, executives call doing business.”
So the stress and conflict are part and parcel to the job we do. What we do about it though, is completely in our control.
Stephen Covey says in 7 habits of a Highly Effective Person “Between stimulus and response, lies the ability to choose.” It is the kind of phrase you might expect from a Zen master or Yoda and in his own ways, Covey is the Jedi teacher of business. It’s an incredibly simple concept and as powerful as it is simple.
We project managers are bombarded from a hundred different angles every single day. We face reluctant teams, self centered sales reps, political managers, oblivious executives and more. At least that’s what we tend to describe them as when in reality we are dealing with teams that are unsure of next steps or feeling insecure with their positions, sales reps that are paid to make sales and if they don’t they don’t get paid, managers who recognize business is a series of give and takes and executives that must make a hundred decisions a day to keep the company moving and you probably are only aware of three of those.
Human nature is pretty quick to assign emotional content to everything. Being an effective project manager means focusing not on the emotions but on the behaviors. Behaviors are the words one says, how one says them (tone and inflection), facial expressions, body language, and work product (timeliness, quality, documents, delivery, etc.).
  • Bob’s slouching in the meeting, that must mean he doesn’t care about the project. No, what it means is Bob got two hours of sleep last night because his son fell off the porch and broke his arm. Bob was in the ER until two in the morning.
  • Mary just wrinkled her nose. She thinks your idea is horrible. No, Bob smells like a sweat sock and Mary has a really sensitive nose.
  • Alexi just called the project “bad and bloated,” he’s being insulting and condescending. No, Alexi is a native Russian speaker and he watched an urban comedy last night. He meant to say “phat” not “bloated” and was trying to say he thought the project was “cool.”
Once we recognize that we should be looking at people’s behaviors, without assigning emotional bias, then we have to start working on our own response. Maybe Bob did intend to completely undercut you and hog all the glory. Is slamming your door and breaking your desk going to make things better? Will your boss blame Bob for having to shell out money for a new computer monitor? More importantly, will anyone want to work with you? Bob may have been underhanded and greedy, but you are the one and only person responsible for your response to his actions.
Being a great project manager means taking the high road, a lot.
Just remember “The man poking you in the chest does not make you angry. You make yourself angry.”
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 patient Gorilla: When Risk Management means you wait

“Listen, Jake, I need something here.” I leaned in over his desk, doing my best convincing look..

The development manager shook his head. “We’re in the middle of a sprint. When the sprint is over I can pull Eric from the team for the next sprint and have him focus on this.”
I sighed. He was right. No matter how important this was, we were in the middle of a development sprint. We couldn’t pull someone from the team like that. I nodded, “Thanks, Jake. I’ll touch base with you next week, after the Sprint Demo.”
I sulked back to my office, chewing my lip. In a week things could change completely. In a week it might not matter or worse it might be a total disaster. I turned around twice, intent on demanding Jake do something right now. Each time I only made it two steps before turning back. There wasn’t anything that could be done right now, not without tossing the entire project into chaos. But… But…But… There was no way I’d be able to concentrate on anything else for the rest of the week.
With an ulcer slowly building I walked into my office. Hogarth was sitting in the corner, a branch from my nearly dead fichus held limply in one hand and a parchment gripped in the other. Making a mental note to buy a new fichus I dropped into my chair. “What’s with the royal decree? ” I waved towards the parchment in Hogarth’s hand.
He looked up. Pointing with the hand holding the branch, he nearly impaled the parchment. “It’s a notice of my reality review. It’s tomorrow.”
“Reality review?”
Hogarth nodded. “Every year. It determines if I continue to exist. Or, if like Descatres when he was asked if he wanted another drink and said “I think not,” I disappear in a puff of unreality.”
I blinked trying to wrap my head around the absolute ludicrous idea that Hogarth could just vanish in a puff of smoke. It was as absolutely incomprehensible as… I looked at my personal gorilla again and shook my head. Right, as unreal as a manifestation of my own conscience as a physical gorilla.  With my brief bout with reality past I returned my attention to Hogarth.
“But, that means you might not be?”
Hogarth nodded. “Ayup.”
“What can you do?”
Hogarth shook his head. “Nothing, the review is based on my past years existence. This is just the findings, they’ve already made their decision.”
Neatly avoiding the whole “who are they?” issue, I said. “Nothing?” Oh, that was brilliant! Way to state the obvious.
Hogarth nodded. “Yep.” And then he calmly rolled up the paper, put it away (don’t ask, I know he doesn’t have pockets and I try not to think about that) and began pealing the bark from the fichus branch. “Oh well, I’ll find out tomorrow.”
I blinked again. ‘Oh well?..’ “How can you not be stressed about this? What are you going to do?”
Hogarth shrugged, “Right now? Nothing.”
“Nothing?” I yelled. “How can you sit there and do nothing? Your very existence is on the line.”
Hogarth nodded. “Yep.”
“And you’re going to do nothing?”
Hogarth rubbed his chin with a leathery hand. “You know, you’re right. There’s this new vegetarian Vietnamese  place down on 5th. Maybe I’ll give that a try.”
My first response was almost over powered by the desire to ask how a gorilla intended to be served in a public restaurant, but the first response won out. “Dinner? How can you be thinking about eating right now? We need a plan, we need to do something!”
Hogarth gazed at me with his deep-brown eyes. “Do what?”
“Well, umm… Ahh.” 
Hogarth said, “Can I do anything about it right now?”
I struggled to find a different answer, but in the end I shook my head. “No. The review is tomorrow and they already made their decision.”
Hogarth nodded, “Yep. So I’m going to go have a nice dinner. Tomorrow will come, when it comes and I’ll find out then.”
Just like the sprint would end at the end of the week…
Managing risk can be a study in Pepto-Bismol. So many factors can impact a project that one can go quite literally risk blind with all the potential impacts to your project. Even if you avoid the “acts of nature” like earth quakes, terrorist attacks, total global meltdown, you can quickly spiral a risk register into the dozens of entries, all of them a major potential impact.
This post isn’t about risk management. While I have a lot to say on the subject, this post deals with risk management gone wrong. Once you’ve done your risk management, you have to have a certain amount of trust in your work. Okay, you’ve identified a major potential risk. If it happens, it will happen in three months. You’ve put in place a mitigation plan, you’ve put in avoidance plans. Now what?
It’s three months away, stop worrying about it. Review it during normal risk reviews, but don’t let it consume you.
This extends beyond just traditional risk management. It goes to every aspect of a project that you have no control over.
If we had four new headcount, that would solve our schedule issue. But you know that there is no way on earth the company will hire four new heads right now. So stop lamenting and move on.
You won’t know if the build works until the compile is done. It’s going to take six hours and finish at 2:00 AM. Go home, have dinner, go to bed and find out if it compiled when you get to the office at 8:00 AM.
You put an offer down on a house. The bank is considering the offer, but it’s Friday and Monday is a holiday so it will be Tuesday before you have an answer. Don’t sit by the phone all weekend and worry. Go out and have a normal weekend.
It’s by no means a new concept. Reinhold Niebuhr came up with the Serenity Prayer in 1937 and it has become an oft quoted and parodied prayer. No matter your religion (or lack of) the core concept remains the same.
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.
If you can’t change it, don’t sweat it. Go have dinner and focus on something you can change.
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 Development Units

The sweat on my brow was threatening to swamp my eyes in their salty haze. Frantically wiping my face, I returned my hands to the keyboard. “Come on, there has to be something… Anything?” The screen updated and the information it offered up gave me no relief. “Ah hell! Come on, it can’t be that hard! There has to be something.”

By now I was getting well and truly desperate. If I didn’t find something soon, my house of cards was going to collapse. And then, like a shining beacon in the night, there was my salvation. I read the details and shuddered. A six hour webinar, starting at 1:00 AM my time. Cringing I signed up. I didn’t really have a choice, did I?
“Eight hours of planning can save eight weeks of work.”
My shoulders sagged and my head fell forward to knock my LCD screen over. (Sometimes I miss the old days of the glass CRT. At least when your head hit one of those, you felt it.) I let the monitor fall. There was no point in recovering it, I knew I wasn’t going to be using it for a while. Instead I let the impending feeling of doom over come me. That voice could only mean my own private gorilla had come to “enlighten” me on the errors of my ways.
“Oh come on,” said Hogarth. “It can’t be as bad as…” A leathery hand reached past me to right the monitor. “The use of fractal equation theory in the application of grid based project mapping scatter status charts.” Hogarth paused, “Presented by Hans Gibberish from his classroom in Belgium.”
Settling down on the floor, Hogarth pulled a branch off my fichus tree. With immaculate, white teeth he began to peal the branch free of its leaves and bark. “So why on earth are you registered for perhaps the most boring webinar in the world, that starts at o-dark thirty in the morning?”
I turned in my seat. Holding my hands defensively in front of me I said, “I don’t have a choice. I’m five and a half PDUs short of sixty and I have to file them by end of business tomorrow or I lose my certification. Last weekend I took a two day course on the history of project management, as interpreted in mime. And I even went to the consultants PM networking event yesterday.”
“You’re not a consultant.” Hogarth observed.
“I know that, but it was worth one and a half PDUs!”
Hogarth nodded. He was silent for a long minute, intent on rendering the last of the fichus branch to wood pulp. Finally he gazed at me with his deep brown eyes. “How long have you had to earn your PDUs?”
“Three years.”
“And how many PDUs did you need?”
Hogarth held a massive hand up, fingers working through the math. “So twenty PDUs a year. Just over 1.5 PDUs a month?”
I sighed. “Yes…”
“And in the first two years of your certification, how many PDUs did you earn?”
“None!” I shouted. “That’s why I’m scrambling now. I was to busy to earn them.”
Hogarth sighed, shaking his head. “Well first off, you did earn PDUs. And second off, eight hours of planning saves eight weeks of work.”
“Huh?” I said.
“Google it.” He replied, reaching for another branch.
If you are not a certified project manager, you might be a little lost. Most professional certifications require a certain number of “units” of relevant activity to maintain your certification. For PMI’s PMP certification, that is 60 Professional Development Units every three years. Failure to acquire the required PDUs will result in you being ineligible to renew your certification. If your certification lapses, you have to take the test all over again to recertify. 
About every three months I meet a project manager at some networking function. His eyes are glassy and its clear he’d rather be somewhere else. Only he’s there and eagerly looking for any other networking events. Why? Because he’s about to hit his three year limit and is short of PDUs. So begins the mad dash to get those desperately needed PDUs.
I’ve now been a PMP long enough to have seen this cycle repeat with the same people. When I first became a PMP I met people in the mad dash for their PDUs. Then they disappeared, sunk into the mires of their professional job. Only to resurface three years later, to once again make the mad PDU dash. Not unlike salmon swimming upstream, trying to dodge the bears of “too little time,” “not enough money,” “have to work my day job.”
And every time I meet someone on the mad dash for PDUs, I silently shake my head. It doesn’t have to be that hard.
I’ve got a good friend who absolutely tracks every single PDU he ever earns, even after he hit the sixty PDU limit. I believe he’s currently a full year from needing to recertify and he’s well over 130 PDUs. Me personally I’ve got at least ninety PDUs and a year until I recertify. I know for a fact I’ll make at least another thirty in the next year.
Earning PDUs is easy. And with only a little planning and a little “getting out of the office” you can easily earn 60 PDUs in two years. 
Some tips and advice:
Know the rules: PMI has several useful documents to aid you in understanding PDUs. Start with their “Maintain Your Credential” site for general overview. PMI offers its own suggestions for earning ways to earn PDUs and has printable PDU Reporting Form for offline documentation.
The real gem is easy to miss as it’s billed as comparison of the old and new PDUs (In March of 2011, PMI went from 18 categories to 6). The type of PDUs explained PDF breaks down the six PDU categories (A – F), including maximum PDUs you can earn for certain categories.
Do your job: You can earn 5 PDUs for holding a project management job. One quarter of your PDUs can be earned just by showing up to work each day. PMI is not explicit, but I’m pretty certain a volunteer job will apply as well.  This is Category F in the PDU chart.
Read a book – or listen to a podcast: Another 10 PDUs a year can be garnered in self directed learning. Two of the most popular are books and podcasts. I personally recommend Pam Stanton’s PDU for Lunch and the Cornelius Fichtner PDU podcast. I’m pretty sure Ficthner’s also qualifies in the continuing education category, so you can earn more than 10 a year. This is Category C in the PDU chart (Continuing education is Category B). [EDIT- I’ve since learned that Pam’s webinars are good for Category A (PMI Acredited training) if listened to live and Category B if you catch the recordings and Conelius’ are good for Category B. So read books or talk to PMs for your Catagory C and save Pam and Cornelius for A and B]
Talk to other PMs: Another way to earn Category C is to go to formal PM gatherings. But that costs money, right? No, not always. Many PMI chapters offer free networking events. Usually for the price of a cup of coffee or a cheap breakfast, you can spend an hour a month talking with other PMPs. That will get you your 10 PDU a year easy.
That’s forty-five easy PDUs right there. Register for two one-day PM workshops in your three years and you’ve just locked up your next recertification.
So like the gorilla said, “eight hours of planning can save eight weeks of work.” We project managers know this mantra, we preach it to engineers all the time. For us let’s change it just a little.
“Regular planning will prevent a mad dash at the finish line.”
So, do you PDU?
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

All the other Gorillas are doing it

Finally! Just the prep class I’d be looking for. It fit everything I needed, namely a one stop shop that would teach me everything I needed to pass the exam and all that in just six days of intensive training. The certification was as much as mine!


 I damn near leapt out of my skin and did leap from my chair. Clutching my chest I whirled about. “Hogarth!” I blurted. I swear, if I ever figure out how an 800 pound gorilla can be so stealthy, I’ll bottle it and make a fortune. “Don’t sneak up on me like that!”


 “Why don’t I want you to scare me?” I asked in shock.

 Hogarth shook his head. Lumbering past me he perched on the corner of my desk and pointed at the screen. “No, why are you taking a workshop to be a…” He leaned forward, squinting to read the screen “An IRATE*?”

 I stood up a little taller, “That’s an International Registered ACME Technology Evangelist.”

 Hogarth looked at me, “And you’re getting one why?”

“The IMP, Institute of Managing Project*s just came out with the certification. It’s bound to be the next must-have certification. Everyone is using their certification based on the MoProK*.”

 Hogarth leaned towards my screen, “and it’s worth…” He blinked, putting on a pair of banana shaped spectacles to see better. “It’s worth four figures, four very large figures, to you? Do you even know anything about ACME?”

 I shook my head, “Not a thing, but the prep class will teach me everything I need to pass the test.”

 “Huh” he said. Levering himself up from my desk, he began to waddle from the room.

 “Hey!” I said. “Aren’t you supposed to be saying something profound that makes me realize how big an idiot I’m being?”

 Hogarth shrugged. “I suppose, but I need to get going if I want to make my Poo flinging certification prep class. I mean all the monkeys in accounting have theirs.”

 “Hogarth, that’s ridiculous. Monkeys throw poo, that doesn’t mean you have to.”

 Hogarth turned and looked at me. He smiled and said, “Something profound.”


Whoever remembers their mother saying, “And if all the other kids jumped off a cliff, would you?” Okay, good, for a minute I thought I might be the only one.

As many of you know, I’m studying for PMI’s Agile Certified Practitioner certification (PMI-ACP). I think there is a value to it, or at the very least a value to having strong proponents of Agile as certified members. I go into my own whys on this in the Potato, Pahtato Gorilla.

So, I recently attended a local project management-related Meetup. The subject of this meeting was the PMI-ACP certification. The speakers were from a local training house that currently offers PMP prep course training.

At the end of the meeting more than one person came to me and asked my opinion. At the time I demurred on any full commentary, simply saying that they had definitely figured out their target market. While I absolutely believe in tackling those unspeakable gorillas in the room, sometimes calling them out is just plain rude. So I withheld my commentary at the time. It is also why I’ll withhold any specifics on the meeting or the speakers.

So what did I think of the presentation?

It was a crass commercial that undermined the value and ideals of Agile and PMI certifications.

It completely missed why so many people believe in Agile and have been promoting the use of Agile values and principles in everyday business. Only five of the twenty four slides in the presentation were devoted to Agile itself, with the rest being either wrapper or a pitch on why you should get the ACP and how their upcoming training could prepare you.

To the company’s credit, the gentleman who gave the mini primer on the value of Agile, spoke with the passion of an Agilist. It was clear he believed in and used Agile because it worked, because it made for a better project and a better team.

I wish I could say the same for the other presenter, who provided the arguments on why one should get the PMI-ACP. Let me quote the very first bullet from the “Why the PMI-ACP is important for Project Managers?” slide.

o    “Be prepared for the next big wave (after PMP)”

Everything was geared around this concept. That you needed to get the PMI-ACP because it was going to be the next big thing, because everyone was going to be doing it. As a certified PMP I cringed at how they stressed the value of PMI creating the certification. Essentially it boiled down to “They are the industry leader, so it will be taken seriously.” I’ll be the first to say PMI isn’t perfect, but to boil it down to “They are the 800 pound gorilla, that’s why you get their certification” leaves a lot of PMI’s value on the table.

I came away from the meeting feeling like this company cared first and foremost about turning out successful test passers and not practicing Agilists. None of the pitch talked about how it would make us better, how it would help the team, how it would help our businesses. It was all about “me.” Any believer in Agile knows that’s the last thing a project manager should be thinking about. Those of you who have a PMP are probably familiar with the opinions of how the PMP has become devalued by people going through almost factory-like prep courses that are designed to get you past the test, even if you really don’t have a lot of practical PM experience.


·         Is PMI the 800 pound gorilla of project management certifications? Yes, yes it is.

·         Is it likely PMI’s ACP certification will become a must have on PM resumes? Strong likelihood.

·         Should every project manager run, not walk, to get certified at their local factory cert shop? Heck no!

·         Are prep classes inherently bad? No, provided they don’t forget the bigger picture.

Agile is a set of values and principles. You can’t just certify yourself on Agile, you have to believe in Agile.  You don’t do Agile because “everyone is doing it.” You do Agile because it works, because it makes for better teams.

If I ever develop a PMI-ACP prep course, it will be a course that teaches the value of Agile, not just how to pass the test.

Be the lemming with the life preserver.

* The IMP, IRATE and MoPRoK are an entirely made up organization, certification and body of knowledge intended to represent any of the hundreds of organizations and certifications in existence. I am not opposed to organizations creating a standard of practice and certifications to go with them. My issues are with those that take advantage of them instead of build on them.