It’s Your Gorilla, So Change the World!



I had just enough sanity left in me to reflect on just how often that sound escaped from my mouth these days. And then sanity left me and I walked towards the door to my office. All I wanted to do was pound my head on the oak door until all my cares went away.


“Gonna break that poor door,” the words cut through my haze of frustration for just a moment. Just a moment. Then they were replaced by new frustrations. Was there ever going to be a day that Hogarth didn’t show up to offer me his ‘words of wisdom’?


From his perch, by my office window, my gorilla answered. “Sure there will be. At this rate though, not going to be a for a long time. Leave the door alone, its already got a dent in it.”


I threw up my hands. “I give up! I just give up. There is no way I’m ever going to change corporate culture around here.” I threw myself down in a chair and gave a resigned sigh. “I tried to get the test group to share their data with the support group.”


Hogarth cocked his head, “And?”


I shook my head, “No go, the test guys say it’s too complicated and would only distract support from helping the customers. The support guys are livid because they feel like test is treating them like children.” I sighed. “So the support guys have decided to stop coming to meetings until Test changes their mind.”


Hogarth chuckled, “Very adult.”


I glared at him. “You’re not helping. If you have some practical advice, I’m all ears. Otherwise, please go away.”


Pulling a banana from somewhere (don’t ask, I never do) he began to peel it. “Sure I do, stop trying to fix the world.”


“What the hell am I supposed to do?” I snapped.


“Be the best damned project manager you can be. Focus on what you have direct control of.” Hogarth took a bite of his banana. “Do that and you’ll change the world.”


I laughed. “Oh that’s rich. How exactly can I change the world? I’m just one project manager in a huge company.”


Hogarth tossed me a book. “It’s Your Ship.”





I recently finished reading It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best  Damn Ship in the Navy, by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff. This book goes on my top inspirational books list and I’ll be recommending it to my friends and colleagues as a must read (or listen) book. Abrashoff communicates his powerful advice through great stories and by showing exactly how his advice worked in the real world.


I could go into the standard book review format. I’ve got a good system going after all, just check out my Good to Great review.


I’m not going to do that though. You see there is a far more powerful message in this book than can be covered by a book review. Beyond Mike’s eleven keys of good command, there is an even larger message to be read. You just have to cock your head to the side and read between the lines.


One ship, one crew, one captain, one person, can change the world


Captain Abrashoff was on his very first command. He was the junior captain in his naval group. His ship was probably not considered the gem of the fleet , elsewise a new captain wouldn’t have been posted to it. He was assigned an officer who was considered a failure by his last ship. In short, the level of influence that the USS Benfold could exert was not on the level of a Jobs, Clinton, Buffet or Branson. It was lucky if it could influence itself out of its own way. One certainly wouldn’t have expected Benfold to impact the entire US Navy.


Yet Abrashoff, Benfold and her crew went on to change the Navy. No, it wasn’t some diabolical plan to take over the world. Heck, Abrashoff probably never envisioned he would even be able to make the sea changes that he did. Instead he was completely and totally focused on what he could do in his little circle of influence. And through that focus, he changed the world.


Let’s look at just a handful of the examples I collected from my reading:


Steel Fasteners: Now remember, this was 1997, stainless steel had been around a good long while. Painting the ship was an absolute nightmare chore that cut into the new sailors training time. The fasteners on the ship (bolts, screws, nuts, etc) would rust and streak the still perfectly painted metal and you’d have to paint the ship every couple of months. After listening to his crew, Abrashoff bought steel fasteners with his ship credit card (The Navy didn’t stock them). Bang, the painting chore dropped radically. Today all Navy ships are using steel fasteners and other improvements that Benfold trailblazed. Imagine all that recovered productivity?


Real Time Communication from a Weapon System: We take instant communication for granted a lot. In 1997 cell phones were still bricks, AOL was still one of the largest email providers, and computer radio traffic was still in its infancy. It could take hours if not days to get orders out to everyone. This caused some pretty serious issues in the Persian Gulf and the Iraqi peacekeeping mission. Abrashoff listened to one of his petty officers. Then he bucked the system and brought the idea to his Admiral. End result? The computer network system for the Tomahawk Cruise Missile system was leveraged to allow real time, two way communication between ships of the fleet. It was rolled out across the Navy and changed how ship to ship coordination was done.


Get the food on the ship!: I was floored by this one. In the 90’s, Navy ships were still having their food stores loaded by hand. They would form a human chain and pass the boxes from the dock to the storage lockers. Abrashoff told a non-Navy friend (it pays to have a wide network!) about the problem. Long story short, his friend created a conveyor belt system that could be setup quickly and load the ship in a fraction of the time and labor. Not to mention with more safety. The Navy hired that guy to load all ships in the San Diego port.


New Sailor Policy: You just graduated from Navy boot camp. You fly a civilian airline across country and find your own way to the ship you will be serving on. Almost everyone is off the ship because its in port. You spend the first forty-eight hours just trying to find the head (bathroom) and how to get back to the deck (outside) of the ship. Abrashoff set up a new sailor on-boarding process that greatly improved morale and new hire ramp up speed. The process was copied by other ships and I wouldn’t be surprised if its not SOP for the Navy now.


You can change the world


Yes, you. The project manager on the right. You sitting in your cube with a stack of Gant charts threatening to bury you. You with the action item list that looks more like a parts list for a nuclear sub. You, the project manager who just had to go turn back on the office lights because the timer automatically turns them off at 10:00pm.


We can change our companies, we can change the world. We don’t have to be the CEO. We don’t have to have a dozen direct reports.


What we have to do is be the best we can be. Focus on what we are good at, do it and keep doing it. When you something really well, people notice. I’ve had it happen to me. I’ve created MSFT Office templates for my own use. I always put my name into the properties section when I do it. Many times I’ve gotten a document sent to me from some other project. Gee, this looks familiar. Well, hey there, look at that. My template, tweaked a little and being used half a company away. Guess it worked.


If one junior Captain, one single destroyer can change the United States Navy, then a good project manager can damn well change the world.


So what are you waiting for?

The Gorilla Coach: A book review of Coaching Agile Teams, by Lyssa Adkins

Coachin Agile Teams


“You’ve got to do something! We can’t keep going like this, the entire project is going to collapse in on itself.”
Eric certainly had a way of getting my attention. I had instant visions of red project dashboards and burn down charts flat lining like a patient in the ER. Eric was one of the canaries on the project. There are always those certain team members that reflect the state of the project or are the first to see a major issue. Like the miner’s canary of old, they are the first to notice or raise the issues and a smart manager learns to pay attention. These are not to be mistaken for the Chicken Littles, who can give a hypochondriac a run for their money. When a canary sings, you listen to their song.
I held up my hands and spoke in a calm tone. “Okay, Eric, calm down and tell me what the problem is. I’m sure we can get this addressed.”
Eric took a deep breath and paused for a moment, as if suddenly unsure he wanted to continue. I gave him my best supporting smile and waited.  Finally finding his voice he said, “It’s Greg, he smells.”
I blinked. “Smells?”
Eric nodded, perhaps a bit too energetically. “No one wants to pair program with him. Heck no one wants to be within six feet of him. It’s like a mouse crawled into his shirt and died. Given the last time he changed his shirt it could well have.”
I sat back in my chair, a frown threatening to crease my brow. “This can’t be happening to me,” I thought. My next thought was to look across the table again. If Brenda were sitting there, this would have been another “The sky is falling” moments and I could have dealt with that like all the other times the sky didn’t really fall. Only this was Eric, the most reliable barometer of the teams health available. It meant that either Eric had gone off the deep end or the problem was very real.
So now what? This wasn’t a slipped schedule, we didn’t have a shortage of test machines,  it wasn’t even the completely useless requirements or product manager owner was foisting on us. No, I was being asked to deal with someone’s smell.”
They didn’t cover this in project management training…
“What would coach do?”
I turned to cast a baleful look at Hogarth.
“This isn’t a football game.”
My gorilla gave a little nod. “Good thing too, cause you stink at football.”
“Hogarth you are not helping me solve this problem.”
He nodded again, a brilliant white smile splitting his face. “Nope, I’m not and you shouldn’t be either. Solving Eric’s problem isn’t going to help him solve it in the future, now is it?”
Dang… he was right.
This book had been recommended to me many times, by many people. It forms one of the core study books for PMI’s new agile certification and you’d be hard pressed to find a conversation on agile coaching that doesn’t reference this book or the author.
Like me, Lyssa Adkins is a recovering command and control project manager and this is one of the things that makes this book resonate for me. While many agile authors have always been on the revolutionary/evolutionary end of the innovation scale, Lyssa had worked in the trenches of traditional projects and speaks to all audiences. Whether you are an eccentric software coder, turned agile visionary, or a former art major, turned project manager, turned aspiring agile coach, this book will speak to you. Very importantly, it speaks right to project managers “in transition.” Based on the traditional roles that project managers have filled, the scrum master role often ends up being a place project managers end up gravitating to as they journey into agile (or are shoved feet first by events, company, etc.) so this book is a great asset to them.
With 302 practical pages of content, there is a lot to absorb. It is not an evening’s light reading. Some of the concepts and mental challenges they raised had me setting the book down so I could process. All in all, it took me several weeks to read the book as there was so much to absorb and my mind wasn’t ready for it all at once.  But there was no way I was not going to finish this book.
The book is broadly laid out into three sections and the first hint you have on what it takes to be a good coach is that two of the three sections have to do with you.
  • It Starts With You: Starting with the obvious “will I be a good coach?” question, this section lays down the ground work to open yourself up to what is needed for you to be a good coach. Along the way it teaches you a lot about yourself.
  • Helping the Team Get More for Themselves: This section covers six aspects of being an agile coach, from the high level mentor concepts to the details of how a coach can help resolve conflict in a team.
  • Getting More for Yourself: One of the things I truly appreciate about agile, is its stance on failure. Lyssa’s book is no different and this section tackles head on the mistakes you will make and that it is okay to make them as long as you learn from them. It touches on the journey and knowing when you finally get there (Hint- you never do).
The Good:
Approachable Style: Lyssa writes this book in a conversational tone and weaves in direct experience throughout the book. You constantly have a strong sense that she is speaking from her own hands-on experience and her light style makes absorbing the deep content a lot easier.
Failure is okay: She knows that the journey to being a coach is going to have its bumps and bruises and she makes that okay. Instead of feeling like you are facing an insurmountable journey to be an agile coach, she reassures you that the potholes are just part of the journey. The most wonderful experiences are not found in the well manicured aisles of a department store, they are found out in the wilds of the world.
Lots of practical tips: The book isn’t just theory and platitudes. She provides solid tips, actions and exercises. She also provides tailoring to help you deal with all aspects of an agile organization, not just the agile development team.
The Not So:
No punches pulled: This could arguably be in the good things, you just need to be aware about it. Lyssa doesn’t pull punches and she’s not going to white wash this. If you are not ready to let go of your control freak nature, this book will be hard to read. You’ll put it down more than once and walk away. You will also learn really fast if you really want to be an agile coach. It is not a job for everyone. I still want to be one, but this book certainly tested my mettle.
Broad base may not appeal: If you are a hardcore scrum master, who is totally focused in on the artifacts of scrum and only scrum, you may find this book to broad for your tastes. Lyssa comes off fairly agile agnostic. This book is about helping any team, in an agile way, and this may not be pure scrum enough for some. Again, this could be argued as a good thing. I would hazard a guess that is part of why it ended up on the PMI reading list.
The Bookshelf Index: (Where does this book when I am done reading it?)
In my computer bag: This book speaks so much to what I want to be and how I want to engage with teams that it has not left my computer bag since I started reading it. It has quickly become a well worn copy and I will continue to refer to it regularly for some time to come.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Talker
Want me to talk to your gorilla?
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

The Winning Gorilla: A Book Review of "The Lazy Winner"

“Yeah, sure no problem. I can get that done.”
I hung up the phone, a cheerful smile on my face, and turned back to my computer. Only to be faced with a staggering to do list awash in the red of late deliverables. Why the heck did I just say yes to another deliverable? I was already behind on a half dozen and the list of commitments just for this week was enough to keep me busy through to the new year. What was I thinking?
“You weren’t”
Sigh… And here comes the gorilla to tell me the error of my ways.
Hogarth perched on my desk, causing it to groan in protest at this 800 pound bulk. “There’s a wonderful word in your English language. You might be familiar with it. It’s the word ‘No.”
“Yeah, yeah I know about no.”
Hogarth pointed his banana at me, “But do you know how to use no?”
“Of course I know!”
“Really? Can you tell me the status of the Glitteratti regression testing?”
“At this time QA has not published their report so I don’t have an up to date status.”
Hogarth shook his head, “That didn’t sound like a no. Way to many syllables. What’s the status of the Glitteratti regression?”
I gritted my teeth, “I don’t have that status right now, I should have it…”
Hogarth waved his cantaloupe sized hand in front of me, “You know, never mind. I actually came in here to ask if I could borrow your car. I saw this great move on an old Dukes of Hazard that I want to try. So can I borrow your car?”
“NO!” I replied without thinking.
Hogarth smiled broadly. Leaning over he patted me on the shoulder, “see there, I knew you could say no!”
BOOK REVIEW: The Lazy Winner, By Peter Taylor
It’s not often I’m on the leading edge of a book. It took me close to twenty years to read 7 Habits and my last review was on the ten year old Good to Great. So the ability to read a book when it first comes out is something I take as a great joy.
Now I do need to give the disclaimer that I didn’t pay for The Lazy Winner. I received a complementary copy with the agreement that after reading it, I would write a review for it on Amazon. That said, being the gorilla talker means I’m not about to pull punches just because I didn’t pay the cover price.
The Lazy Winner steps beyond Peter’s first book, The Lazy Project Manager and seeks to provide helpful guidance for anyone trying to survive the daily grind of professional life. The Lazy PM was chock full of useful tips and techniques for the project manager and still sits in a prominent spot on my desk bookshelf. The Lazy Winner is both targeted at a wider audience and more narrow in its approach.
The book is strictly focused on you and how you can succeed in the work environment without killing yourself. And it is not a book that tries to promise the world. In fact Peter spends the first couple of pages trying to convince you not to read the book. You have to want to change to change.
The key to the book is five questions and then how you answer and define them:
Do I want to do this piece of work, job or task? Even if I do want to do it, do I need to do it?
Is the potential result or outcome worth my effort?
Do I have to do it myself?
If I have to do it then what is the shortest path to the point of success?
What exactly is the point of success and at what stage will I just be wasting time?
Revisiting the Pareto rule, which he first references in The Lazy PM, Peter then uses these five questions to help the reader learn how to channel what he actually does to the most important and value added items. And unlike many self help books, in this vein, he doesn’t try whitewash away the stuff you don’t do. There is a large factor to ensuring things don’t get dropped, even as you do less, but more productive work.
Peter even talks about the inertia against change. “But it’s so easy to just keep doing it this way…” Using some of his signature simple graphics he walks the reader through how to examine the value of change versus not change.
The Good:
This makes sense: Peter has a conversational reading style. Having listened to his podcasts, I could easily imagine him reading the words to me. He mixes a simple writing style, humor and just the right amount of formatting to make The Lazy Winner the kind of book you say “I’ll just read one more page and then I’ll put it down.”
Questions of power: I’ve understood the Pareto rule and I learned the hard way I don’t have to do everything myself. And even with that under my belt, the five questions make a wonderful level of sense and will be something I refer back to time and again.
Footnotes of laughter: Read the footnotes. I usually am one to skip footnotes as way to much detail but you’d be the poorer if you do that with this book. Read the footnotes for the information but more importantly for the humor.
The Bad:
Just a snack: The PDF copy comes in at just 162 pages with the Appendix (a very useful appendix) starting at page 121. Peter packs a fair amount into the book, but I can’t help but feel I’m reading the cliffs notes of summary copy of the book. Everything section left me looking for more. Then again, perhaps this was on purpose. If you give to much help in a self help book, people might not think for themselves. In the end, like the Chinese food Peter loves so well, this book left me hungry for more thirty minutes after finishing.
I’m ready for my close up: I love the cover to The Lazy Project Manager. It is simple and compelling. The kind of cover that catches your eye on a bookshelf or in an e-catalog. While the photo of Peter is a good one, I think it would be a lot better as the “About the author” picture. A laughing man, not looking at the camera doesn’t sell me “Winner.” If I didn’t know who Peter was, I might be inclined to say “Wow, what an ego, he used his own face.” I’d rather see art in the same style as The Lazy PM. A stylized checkered flag over a man racing a desk or something.
Ow, ow, my wallet: $23 US for the print edition of the book feels a little steep. It’s a smaller book than his first and still going for a similar price. Perhaps I’m just out of touch with prices but if I were to heft the print version, in a Barnes and Noble, I’d think it didn’t weigh what a $23 book should weigh. The Kindle version though is $9.99 and that’s in the reasonable (for Amazon) e-book range.
The Bookshelf Index:
The Lazy Winner won’t be joining The Lazy Project Manager on my desk bookshelf. It has some valuable insights, but the core meat are those magic questions and a couple of other points. I’ll be creating a one page of those to pin on my wall and the book will be filed away in my reference stack.
Well worth the read, but not something you won’t be reaching for again and again.  This book is perfect for electronic reading. Short, easy to read and you won’t be wanting to flip through the pages to refer to it like you might with The Lazy Project Manager.
NOTE: Passing on a shameless plug from Peter Taylor. The Lazy Winner is currently (Dec 14, 2011) free on the Kindle in the US Amazon shop. Take advantage of his largess while it lasts.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Talker Project Manager
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

Get on the Gorilla Bus: A Good to Great Book Review



I just couldn’t bring myself to come up with a more energetic response than that. Wednesday had arrived with all the energy of a three legged turtle hopped up on warm milk. The clocked ticked over to 8:00 am and I opened up my calendar to see what the schedule had in store for the day. “Oh, look. Just like last Wednesday. And the Wednesday before that, and the one before that, and that.” In a sudden burst of morbid curiosity I jumped my calendar forward three months and  looked at Wednesday. “And we have the exact same day.”


I sat back in my seat and stared fitfully at the ceiling. I had long ago come to the realization that this job was slowly eating out my soul from the inside. Still, here I sat preparing for yet another day. “Meh, it’s a living.” I said and reached for my mouse, intent on slogging through today’s predictable pile of overnight email.


Mee… Mee… Mee…


“Whaton earth?” I stepped to the door of my office to find out what was going on.


I was greeted by the silvered back of Hogarth as he slowly back stepped down the hall. The god awful racket was coming from him, right in time with his long arms waving in a throng of confused looking businessmen. His poor imitation of a bus backing up was replaced by a gruff series of commands. “All right, Mr. CIO you’re going to be down the left hall all the way to end. Don’t worry, we’ll replace the half eaten fichus tomorrow. Director of IT Database infrastructure, head left, third door on the right. VP of Human Exploratory Resource Operations, head to the right, take the first left, the second right and down two flights. Director of Project Improvement Management  Process, you’re right here at the end of the hall. Peter, John and Michael second star to the right and straight on till morning.”


“Hogarth, what are you doing this time?”


My gorilla pooka turned around and gave me one of his screaming white smiles. “Hey there, so are you packed yet?”


“Packed? What are you talking about?” I looked at the curious businessman trying to step past me into my office. “And why is this guy scoping out my office?”


Hogarth waved towards the exit, “The bus is here, time to get on it.”


I shook my head, “I think you’re getting that backwards. In Collins’ bus analogy, the bus  is the company. You bring the right people on the bus and get the wrong people off the bus.”


Hogarth nodded, “That’s right. But where do you think the people being tossed off the bus go?”


“Another bus?” Realization dawned in my muddled brain. “Hey, wait a minute!”





I was first exposed to Good to Great some years back. At that time I thought it was anything but great. I didn’t read the book then, but my experience with it so colored my perceptions that for a while there, Collins was in my lexicon of four letter words. A VP had been brought in to lead my organization. He hit the ground running and held up GTG as his guide book for how he was going to improve the organization.  One of those “improvements” led to my being laid off with a large number of my fellow co-workers. Needless to say, my opinion of the book was pretty low and I hadn’t even read it.


Years later and with the perspective of time I approached this book again and set out to read it. Doing so helped to codify my position on management and my own personal direction. I came to see my previous brush with Good to Great as being one of the best things that ever happened to me.


You see, I got thrown off the bus.


At the time, I thought this was the worst thing in the world. I thought the VP didn’t have a clue and he was just making his own little crony club.  It took reading GTG to finally realize that he did have a clue, and it really didn’t matter what happened in that job or what that VP did. I had been on the wrong bus!


I’m getting ahead of myself. Well more I’m pontificating and not reviewing.



Why do some companies make the leap to being one of those companies we dream about being at and why do some companies become “Acme, oh I remember them, they used to be big in widgets?” That’s what Jim Collins and his research staff set out to determine.  Collins had already delved into the mechanics of how visionary companies lasts, in his book Built to Last, now it was time to see where those visionaries came from.


Collins walks through a six step analysis of GTG companies, building on each previous step as he goes. You can’t get from A to F without starting at A.


Level 5 Leadership: This scale does not go to 6. Collins explains the levels of leadership and why you need a level 5 leader to go great.


First who… Then What: Probably the most profound section for me. This one will speak to agilists as it is about building the right team, then building the company.


Confront the Brutal Facts: I’m the gorilla talker, I’m all about talking to the obvious and dealing with it. GTG companies have to do this to succeed.  Collins explains it all.


Hedgehog Concept:  Hedge what? Seriously you have to read the book, you have to understand why you do what it is you do best.


A Culture of Discipline: Can you say accountability? I knew you could.


Technology Acceleration: No, this is not how Twitter will change the world. This is more about the basic mindset of technology in the work place.


And he ties all that up into his Flywheel of doom.. No wait, the Flywheel and the Doom Loop.


The book is laid out in a conversational style, with Collins walking you through each chapter and each thought process. One could almost envision him standing in front of the class and giving one of those professor lectures we all actually liked to listen to. You know, the ones that got to a point and you could follow?


The books is only 210 pages long, with another fifty pages of explanatory appendix and a bibliography that would choke the world hot dog eating champion.


The Good:

Data, data, data- This book is not based on theory and hokum. It’s based on hard research by Collins and a dedicated (perhaps crazy) twenty person research team. They piled through mountains of financial data, company reports, news clippings and conducted many interviews in the quest to create this book. When Collins declares a hypothesis, it is one based on mountains of research.


Sit on down for a chat- As mentioned in the summary, the book has a comfortable conversation style. Like Collins just sat down and talked about the book with the tape recorder on (I know, I’m dating myself) and then that was transcribed to text. It made the book very approachable and welcoming to read.


The right bus- I don’t know if Collins ever intended the book to serve this purpose but I recommend this book to people who I can see are floundering in their personal careers or are stuck in dead-end jobs. CEOs read this book to find out how to make their companies great. Normal people read this book to realize that the bus analogy goes both ways. In a nutshell, one of the six components of a GTG company is “First who… then what.” He uses an analogy of getting the people you need on the bus and getting the people you don’t need, off the bus. Build a great team and the company will be great.


Now first of all I’d like to point over at my passion of agile management and how agile focuses on the team, not the project. Then I want to point out that the bus goes both ways. When I was kicked off the bus, I went on to discover that I’d been on the wrong bus. I got the kick in the pants that led to meeting Hogarth and waking up to smell reality. This book isn’t just a good company guidebook, it’s a good personal guidebook. You can learn how to look at a company and decide if you should really keep clocking in or if it is time to find your real career.


The Bad:

Time is no friend to companies- When two of the companies featured are Circuit City and Fannie Mae, it can be hard to keep reading. Published in 2001, the book is a definite look back in time. Bank of America could do no wrong in the nineties. Today, we have 99%ers pitching tents in its lobby. While the facts used can’t be argued with, I had to wonder at the connection between Great companies and companies that last. Is it sustainable to be Great or not? Perhaps the answer lies in Built to Last, which I’ve yet to read.


Drowning in data- There were times when I felt I was being bludgeoned by the data. I’d already understood the concept and I was still getting hit with the justifications. If you see yourself as already progressive, you might be able to stop after  the first chapter, or at least only read the first few pages of each chapter. The data will get to you as you say to yourself “I’m sold already, where the hell do I sign?”


The Bookshelf Index:

One of the ways I measure a books value is where I put it when I’m done with it, the book shelf index. GTG gets the best shelf space, sitting on my desk at work next to the Peter Drucker. Laid out with strong headers and valuable data makes it still a go to reference book in my day to day work.


In the end I found this book useful for reasons Collins may not have envisioned for the book. Yes, companies can use this as a guidebook for going in the great direction. And the individual worker can use it to determine if they are in the right company for them. As much a personal development guidebook as it is a company development road map.


Joel Bancroft-Connors

The Gorilla Talker Project Manager

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.


Book Review- 7 Habits

The mountain of books threatened to collapse the desk. Cubicle desks were just not designed to support the weight of so many books. Though I suppose the gorilla was the real issue.
“Hagarth?” I didn’t really need to finish the question, he knew what I was about to say.
“I’m sharpening the saw,” he said, not looking up from a book titled “The inter-dynamics of banana diplomacy when used in a corporate environment.”
“You’re what?”
He laid the book down and looked at me. “Oh forgive me. Here, let me move these books. How are you doing, you kind of look stressed?”
Hogarth was already bustling away to clean my cubicle as he asked the question. Without really any conscious thought I responded, telling him about the frustrating meeting I’d just gotten out of.
“You sound frustrated.”
“Yes I am.” I said reflexively. In my head I was thinking another thing all together. ‘Wait a minute, I just said that…’
“I can imagine, I’d hate to do that kind of work and have it ignored.”
Who was this and what had he done to my gorilla? “Hogarth what’s going on, why are you being so nice?”
“What, we can’t both get what we want. It’s not okay for us to have a win/win situation?”
“Hogarth, have you been reading Covey again?”
The 7 Habits of highly effective people, by Stephen R. Covey.
I have owned 7 Habits for at least ten years. In all that time I don’t think I ever made it past the introduction. It took for me to finally take the time to listen to this book on being effective (No, the irony of my total ineffectiveness in reading a book I already owned is not lost on me. ).
I purchased the unabridged audio book, in all its twelve hours and fifty eight minutes of glory. As I listened to Mr. Covey read his own words, I repeatedly chastised myself for taking so long to do so. While the book and Mr. Covey’s exact words were new to me, so much of the 7 Habits resonates with my own personal philosophies and project management styles.
Mr. Covey read the book personally and I think this added a lot more to the book. So many of the stories are directly personal that for someone else to read it, the book would lose a lot of credibility.  And Mr. Covey’s personal anecdotes are a vital part of the success of this book. This isn’t just some self-help theory being preached by a consultant. The 7 habits are something developed through Mr. Covey’s personal life experiences. The sheer power of example on perspective is strong all by itself. Having the man who personally witnessed the events tell the story makes for an impact you just can’t measure.
The seven habits themselves are not something profound or earth shattering. Instead, I would place them into the pantheon of common sense. And we all know how much we humans manage to use common sense. His concept of task management (Part of Habit 3: Put First Things First) makes complete sense and is so easily put into practice. I had a business colleague complain about how his team was constantly behind the eight ball and they just couldn’t get far enough ahead of the fires to plan. He’d never read 7 Habits, but I described Mr. Covey’s two by two Importance/Urgency matrix to him in a couple of paragraph email. A month later he told me they’d been using this for task prioritization and it had done wonders. By taking a little time, they’d discovered a lot of the fires were urgent, but not important.
The book is a dense read (or listen) to get through. It’s not the kind of book you polish off on an airplane ride. There is so much data and thought provoking stories that you have to set the book aside to process it all (or turn off the recording in my case).  It is the kind of book that you should finish. There were a couple of times where I had the urge to push it to the side (Heck, I didn’t read the print copy for ten years). The urge was driven completely by my own discomfort in facing my own decisions and how I’d approached problems in the past.
My largest regret with this book is I didn’t read it ten years ago. This book may be twenty-two years old, but the words are still as relevant today as the day Mr. Covey first wrote them down.
Where does it go on my “Book Shelf Index”? The print copy is on an upper shelf in my home office. I won’t be reaching for it every day, but that more has to do with my having copied the 7 habits down and putting them in my computer where I can reference them daily. Buy the book and the audio, this is a book worth hearing read by Covey and having for reference.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
Veteran, the project management wars
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

Gorilla Book Review- The Elements of Scrum


There is something eternally satisfying in closing the back cover of a hard copy book. Especially when the book was such an enjoyable read.
In this age of reading books on Kindle, iPad, printer paper or listening via serial podcast or audio book format, reading a good old fashioned book still has so much emotional content tied up in it. Perhaps the millennial generation will/does feel different, but for we of the Pong generation I think the physical book will always remain a comfortable thing. I love reading on my mobile device and there are some books I truly prefer that way. But not Elements of Scrum.
I had just laid the book down, flipping through the final index pages with an all too satisfied grin of completion. Staring at the blank screen of OneNote I was trying to mentally compose just what I would say about my experiences reading the book.
And like any unasked for distraction, Hogarth wandered by just as I was preparing to type.
“Whuz thad?” he said. At least I assume he did, the spray of partially eaten donuts made it hard to tell.
I looked down at the book, “Elements of Scrum, I just finished reading it.”
Smiling brightly, Hogarth grabbed the book up. “Ooh, the periodic table, I love the periodic table!”
I sighed, “No, Hogarth, not chemistry elements. It’s a book on the fundamentals of the Scrum Methodology.”
“Oh, so elements like Scrumium, Standupum, TDDine, and Taskon?”
“Go away, Hogarth…”
The Elements of Scrum, by Chris Sims and Hilary Louise Johnson
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Chris Sims in action. Chris is the founder/head coach for Agile Learning Labs. A self professed former, aspiring rock star and software coder, Chris’ real talent lie in his ability to engage a room. His coaching style is very dynamic and engaging. Anyone looking to sit at the back of the room and soak up some knowledge, should not attend one of Chris’ trainings. If you want to roll up your sleeves and walk away with hands on practical knowledge, Chris is your man.
My biggest question, when I picked up EoS, was if Chris could take that in person coaching style and translate it to the printed word. I had my doubts. Chris is a hands on trainer, I don’t think I’ve seen him use more than a half dozen PowerPoint slides, ever.He’s a phone first, email days later, kind of guy and I wondered if he’d be able to distill down his thoughts to a cohesive print product. Chris, however, is a smart coach and in collaborating with Hilary I think he found the person who could focus his in person stories and translate them to the printed medium.
EoS is a great mix of approachable writing, great anecdotes and simple pictures, both the ones drawn into the book and the pictures the words easily formed in my head. The nearly 200 pages flew by quickly while giving me some excellent new perspectives on the use of Scrum. For readability I found it outstanding.
Elements is not a complete “how to” book of Scrum, that’s not the goal of the book. It’s laid out a lot like one of Chris’ trainings, and will give any reader a strong foundation in the basics of Scrum. Even though I’ve taken scrum master certification and have been an active agilest for some time now, I still came away from this book with a deeper knowledge of Scrum’s core fundamentals. That says a lot for a $30 book, that it can still teach you some new ideas after taking a two day training class.
The final positive point I can give it is where it will live, now that I’ve read it. EoS will find a place on my ready reference shelf in my office cube. When I need to check something on Scrum, it’s only an arms length away and finding information in it is google easy.
Well worth the cover price.
Thank you and talk to you next time when I’ll share with you my “Pot Hole Project Management” philosophy.
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