The Gorilla doesn’t take credit

The CEO beamed at me with a delighted smile. “Excellent work, excellent work. You did a bang up job on this, you can count on your bonus being nice and fat this year.”

I glowed with overwhelming pride. The CEO liked my work, he really liked it. Hard work and perseverance paid off!

“In fact,” the CEO continued, “I think you’re just the man to make the Gutenberg project happen. It’s been in trouble and I want you to make it happen.”

I blinked. Then I blinked some more. Gutenberg was THE project. It was the single most important thing the company was doing. Everyone had wanted to be on Gutenberg when it started. That was when it started. It was now twelve months behind schedule, the development team working on it was in shambles, the communication between groups was abysmal and the last project manager had taken a leave of absence, supposedly to recover from a heart attack brought on by stress.

“Um, sir, I’m not sure I’m the right…”

“Nonsense! ” he said. And then he was standing and I knew my audience was over. “You single handedly brought the Firestorm project together. I’ve got complete confidence in you.” With that I was ushered out of his office and carried on a tide of “great job” and a firm pat on the back all the way to the elevators.

 As the elevator doors closed on me, I let me head fall forward. Leaning head against the doors my heart competed with the elevator for a race to the third floor. “I’m so doomed…”

 “Ayup,” came a deep voiced reply from behind me.

 Just great. Didn’t these elevators have a weight limit or something ? Maybe we could hang “no gorilla” signs.

 “Weight limit is about 2500 pounds, so stop worrying your going to plunge to your death. You’re not getting off the hook that easy.”

 I turned around, slumping heavily against the doors. “Fine,” I said. “Go ahead, tell me  what a complete idiot I am.” I hung my head and waited for the piercing words of wisdom. The words that would underline just how stupid I had been. The Firestorm project had been a success because the team was awesome. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of engineers and everyone else involved had pulled together. We’d faced serious challenges, but we’d faced them together and tackled everything that got in our way.

 And I’d gotten all the glory and credit…

 Not because I’d moved mountains, or conquered the nasty integration issues. No, I got the credit because like the old adage “The victor writes the history,” I controlled the status reports and all the communication that went to senior management. I’d put myself front and center in all the reports and spoke about in the project in what “I” was doing. I’d been so focused on making myself look good, I’d succeeded. Not only was my team ticked off at me, now I was being asked to step in and save a failing project with a team that made the US Congress look like a happy social club. All because I didn’t give the team the credit they deserved.

 Sigh, I was so doomed…

 Why wasn’t Hogarth saying anything? I looked up and was instantly caught by his deep brown eyes. He just gave me a nod. A nod that said, “yeah, everything you just thought.”

 Dang it, now he was making me do the thinking too?

 Hogarth’s voice took a lofty tone, as he finally spoke. “Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.”

 I looked at him puzzled . Where the hell did he get these quotes from?

 “Abraham Lincoln,” Hogarth said.

I threw up my hands in despair. “That’s all fine and good for Honest Abe. And you’re an imaginary gorilla so what do you know about survival in the corporate jungle. I’m working for a living. If I don’t blow my own horn, who the hell will?”

Hogarth replied softly. “Don’t take credit, communicate success. Your excellence will show through this and people will know.”

I stared at my Gorilla, “At what famous statesman said that?”

Hogarth folded his arms over his broad chest and said, “I did, you got a problem with that?”

 “Uh… no. Nope, none at all.”

 <DING> “3rd Floor, Hubris and Humility.”



Once upon a time I used to worry constantly about metrics. How does a project manager (or any non-hand on doer) measure their effectiveness. A really good manager is all but invisible. Problems are dealt with before they ever get big. Contingencies are set up before they are needed. Relationships are forged and maintained. The team is given all the tools they need and just enough guidance to head for the end goal. To me the perfect manager always seemed completely invisible.

Invisible and corporate survival are not a good match. So I spent a lot of my early career figuring out how to keep my profile up. My goal wasn’t “a job well done”, it was “will this look good on my yearly review.” I looked for every opportunity to be right up there in the spot light. I wanted to make sure I was seen as important.

And thereby utterly failed. I spent so much time trying to look good, that I failed to be effective. Instead of being seen as a vital member of the organization, I was seen as a glory hound. Its not that I was incompetent. To the contrary, I was very good at project leadership, if I focused on that. I just spent so much time worrying about if I was being recognized for my work that I wasn’t effective at what really mattered.

The Team.

The Team is what matters. Focus on the team and the rest will follow.

I talked about how an Agile Project Manager is like R2-D2 a while back. The journey to that epiphany took me through the world of Servant Leadership and much of my own mental tribulations over just what my job role should really be called (Does a gorilla by any other name still smell?).

While I still can’t answer what my job role should be called, I did discover how to measure my own success. I measure my success through the success of the team.

Having spent the last three years with this new focus I have discovered I never needed to have worried about making sure my own value was known.

You see, if you spend all your working hours helping the team, it shows. And just as important, the team knows.

So I stopped trying to promote myself and I started promoting my team. When someone went the extra mile, I made sure to email their boss and tell them how much I appreciated it. When someone complimented my status report, I would give the credit to the team (“I’m just reporting their success, they did the hard work.”).

And you know what? By helping the team I also helped myself. People know what I do. They know I’m valuable. They know I’ll go the extra mile for them. They know I’ll promote my team every single time.

I don’t blow my own horn, I communicate the success of my team.

It’s a good feeling.

Ask not what your Gorilla can do for you

“Go away Hogarth…”

I knew it was him. I mean who else would loom in my doorway at 8:30 at night? Every sane person in the company had gone home hours ago.

“So what does that make you?”

Sigh… I really hate when he does that. Pushing back from my keyboard I looked across the dark office to where my gorilla stood. The few lights illuminating the hallway lit him in an eerie haze that made him almost ghost like in appearance. Given how he haunted my every move, it wasn’t that far from the truth.

“I’m not dead yet,” he said before he swung his arms forward to propel his body into the darkness of my office. I lost sight of him for a moment, as he moved out of the faint light cast through the door. And then there he was, his leathery muzzle poking into the light given off by my monitor and his teeth flashing as he offered up a toothy smile. “Though you’re not looking so great. When was the last time you saw the sun?”

“Very funny, Hogarth, I don’t have time for funny. I’m three chapters behind on our book. You do want to see this book published someday, right?” Looking at him, I gave a triumphant grin. I had him on this one. It’s not like I was toiling away on office work. I ‘d learned my lesson on that long ago. I was just taking advantage of the quiet of after hours office to get in some quality writing time (using my own laptop of course).

I could feel Hogarth’s eyes boring through me from the darkness beyond the monitor glow. As he spoke, his white canines sparkled in the light. “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can and are good, do both.”

I blinked, “What? Seriously?” Okay, he’d gone to far this time. “I’ve done everything you’ve told me. I’ve gotten better at being a person, a project manager, a manager, a coach, you name it. I’m applying your lessons and things are going great here.”

He nodded, “Yep, you are. So why aren’t you at the agile coaching circle tonight?”

What the heck? “Are you smoking banana peels again? I’m not there because I’m here, writing. You’d think with you hanging around me, you wouldn’t have to ask. What on earth can anyone there teach me that you can’t?”

Hogarth leaned back into the darkness, his entire form become just a faint outline in the greater darkness of my office. “Who said anything about learning?”

Now I was really confused. And that usually meant he was about to hit me upside the head with some painful lesson. I’d gotten a lot better about seeing these coming. Only I didn’t know what it was, I only knew it was coming. “What?”

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Yep, he did it again… Oh, my head.


The Kennedy Approach to Being a Professional

Until recently I never really understood why I have become so passionate about helping others. I spent a long period of my career trying to stay below the radar. Don’t rock the boat, don’t stick out your head, don’t go the extra mile.

After Hogarth entered my life (See Wake up and Smell the Gorilla) , I found myself coming out of the bunkers and reaching out to help others. Even during the dark times, when I too was unemployed, I found myself reaching out to help others. I didn’t even think about it or when I did I was just thinking about my own karmic bank account. I was still early in my path and had much still to learn from Hogarth.

For the last year I’ve been regularly attending the Silicon Valley PMI Job Search breakfast. Why? I can hear many of you ask. After all I’m gainfully employed and am very happy with the job. Why would I be going to a breakfast for out of work project managers? For a long while, I thought I was just building my own network for a rainy day. I had a job, surely I can help others. The roles might be reversed someday and I’d need that persons help. Ultimately I thought I was doing it just to build up job karma for myself. It was all about me, right?

Then came the day I finally heard and understood what the facilitator had said many times before. Skip Le Fetrawas also employed and yet was devoting many hours a month to running the breakfast. Skip regularly said “I keep doing this because I get as much out of it as I do giving to it.” This took a while to sink into my head and it took another conversation for it to really gel.

We’d had a particularly intense meeting. One of the attendees had been facing some very specific challenges and the meeting had entered what I call “Group Coach” mode to help this one person. Now being a regular, and employed, I tend to be someone people turn to a lot, especially if Skip has to run off to a meeting. So on this day I had one of the attendees come to me. The attendee (We’ll call this attendee Pat) had something on their mind and needed to get it off. I was there to help. They said (I’ll paraphrase heavily), “This was a great session, X really needed it. I’m just curious, we did something like this for Y two weeks ago and while it really helped X and Y, I don’t feel like it is addressing everyone’s needs.”

I mentally rocked back on my heals on this one. Not so much by what Pat said. What got me was how everything was dropping into place as I formed my reply. I suddenly realized it wasn’t about building karma for myself. I suddenly realized why I help people and why it makes me feel so good.

Because it’s the right thing to do.

On that day I was Hogarth to Pat. President Kennedy’s speech came to my mind and the whole picture became clear. When I explained to Pat that what they should be getting out of the meeting is “what can I give to others.” As Skip had said for the last year, he learns and gets so much just from giving to the meeting.

Do it because it’s right, the rest will follow.

What can you do for your team?

Sometimes a Gorilla is just a Gorilla


“You’ll thank me for this. It’s going to make you so much more productive.”

Jake eyed the spreadsheet dubiously. I suppose I could understand his reticence. At first glance the Systematic Total Universal Program Iteration Document was a bit of an eye chart. I hadn’t understood it really until I’d taken the five day intensive training. But hey, now that I was trained I knew this was the absolute best thing I’ve ever seen. Ever!

“And I have to update this every week?” he asked.

I shodded my head. (You know, when you start to nod your head and then shake it no?) “Well that tab yes, click this other tab for the daily report.”

Jake complied, his eyebrow crawling into his hairline when he did. “This… This is a daily report.”

I nodded enthusiastically. “Uh huh, we’ll always know where the project is now.”

Jake closed his laptop and gathered up his stuff. I could see he was in a daze. Probably thinking about just how productive this was going to make him, once he finished the training. As he walked past me I heard him whisper ,”Yeah, this is definitely stupid.”

I held up a finger, “It’s pronounced ESS-tup-Id .”

Jake stopped for a moment. Then shaking his head, he kept going.

I tugged at my beard. “Well that was weird.”

“Weird in that he didn’t feed you his computer, or weird in that you thought that actually went well?”

Why did he always have to come and ruin my mood? “Hogarth, I don’t need your help. Things are going just fine. The new process is going to be a wonder.”

Hogarth’s looming form pushed off the wall and made its way over to the conference table. “I was more thinking blunder, but hey they do rhyme. “

“Blunder? Have you been smoking banana peals again. What are you going on about?”

Hogarth settled into a chair, easing back slowly as it desperately protested. “I’ll have you know I was drying those peals for a science experiment.” He waggled a leathery hand at me. “You’re playing with your shiny new toys again.”


Hogarth leveled his deep brown eyes at me. “If it works, don’t fix it.”



Way back in 2009 I introduced folks to PIG, the Process Inflexibility Gorilla. In that blog I gave folks the screwdriver argument , which is a useful analogy for why you want to be able to support more than one process, tool or way of thinking.

In a nutshell, the screwdriver argument is:

“If you have the world’s best screwdriver and you’re locked in a room with lug bolts, all you have is a pointy stick.”

And flexibility is a good thing. It’s a key tenet of agile and many leading management techniques. I’m all for flexibility. I’m all for trying something new and innovative. And I’m also aware that I suffer from the all to common failing of…

Red Ferrari Sports Car

“Oooooh, shiny…”

Sorry, where were we? Oh, right, shiny. Back in the 90’s there was a US SitCom called “Home Improvement.” In the show, the lead character (Tim Allen) was a bumbling suburban dad with a TV Show where he was a tools “expert.” Without fail, if he got a hold of a new tool, he had to use it and he had to use it right then. Even if it meant he ended up dropping a crane load on his wife’s classic car.

New toy syndrome can be the death knell of many a good project. The latest fad comes along (we talk about fads in “Agile- A Gorilla Four letter word?”) and off the company goes. Who moved my cheese, Trust Courses, Yell Thereby, African Expeditions, Survivor Board Room, you name it, we’ll try it. All in the blind attempt to find a better way. Only do we need a better way?

If the orders are shipping on time, order placement productivity is high, the customer is happy and the company is doing well, do you really need to shake everything up and put an entirely new ERP system in? Probably not. And yet I’ve seen it done. A complete replacement of a tools system because the new tool would be cheaper, so what if it doesn’t have all the features we need right now, their professional services said they can build us what we need.

New toy syndrome can strike our projects as well, though sometimes it can be old toy. I worked at one company in a division that had been acquired from the outside. The division was acquired because they understood a specific target market and knew how to build and sell to that market. The buying company then proceeded to try and impose its monolith process on the new division. A process designed to build technology that took from 2-3 years to develop was laid on top of an organization that regularly went from concept to ship in less than six months. And then the big company was confused by why the new division was doing so poorly.

You know, I could go on. But in the end, I think Hogarth summed it up perfectly.

“If it works, don’t fix it.”

Talking to gorillas, I’m Joel BC