The Gorilla changing room- Making decisions out of choices

“WAIT, WAIT, What?”
Bob hasn’t been handling stress to well lately. His last word broke into a near falsetto and the tick above his eye was threatening to register on the Richter scale.
Monica didn’t seem the least phased by the outburst. I think it would have taken a good 9.0 to shake the plastic smile from her face. “Marketing thinks Pantone Snorkel Blue 19-4049 is not the right shade for the logo on the case. We want to look at Dark Blue 19-4035 instead.”
Okay, so I have to admit Bob was probably justifiably upset. Me, I was having an odd sense of déjà vu.
“Excuse me, Monica, but didn’t we go over the logo color about three weeks ago and all agree on Snorkel Blue?” I asked, trying to give poor Bob time for his blood pressure to get back down under 200.
Monica gave a casual wave with her absolutely pristine fingernails. “Well, yes, but marketing wasn’t sure then so we didn’t say anything.”
If Monica kept talking in the third person I might just snap myself. “Okay, we are starting mass production in a day. I’m not even sure we can change the color. Wally?” I turned to look at the head of our hardware team.

Wally looked at me with a pained expression that didn’t need words. If they had words, they’d probably been something like “I’ve had our manufacturer change the blasted logo color seven times, how many more do you want to change it?”
Monica gave a dismissive wave to Wally. “Marketing feels certain that the color has to change, can’t you just speed up the shipping process to cover?”
Bob leaned forward, smoke veritably curling from his ears. “We already chose the color, five times. If you can’t be bothered to attend the meetings because you are to busy getting your forehead botoxed…”
Hogarth sidled up to me, his hot breath on my neck the first clue I had to his nearness. Thing is I wasn’t surprised. The meeting was going just so many different ways of wrong that I knew he was bound to show up sooner or later. I guess you could say I was starting to learn and understand his presence. His appearances were no longer absolute surprises of non-sequiturs.  I could almost hear the lesson he was about to give.
“So does this make you Bill Murray?” he asked.
Blink… Huh? Blink… Blink… That was not the lesson I was expecting.
I turned away from Bob’s latest fusillade at Monica and stared at Hogarth. His brilliant white smile was in counterpoint to his bushy black eyebrow raised at me in question. Sometimes I think he truly takes pleasure in confounding me to speechlessness. “Hogarth, what on earth are you talking about?”
Groundhog day of course. You know, the film with Bill Murray reliving the same day over and over until he gets things right?”
“Hogarth, it’s not February, I’m not Bill Murray and what the hell does this have to do with the meeting.”
“Well didn’t you already decide on the color of the logo five times?”
“No, it’s been seven…” Hogarth just looked at me.  “Oh, hell.”
There is a malaise sweeping business, from San Francisco to Sydney and Johannesburg to Edinburgh the same problem is rearing up to prevent companies from succeeding, from moving forward, from getting anything done, from not killing each other in meetings of death, from doing the right things, the right way. What is this frightening cancer? What is this thing that is able to crush your projects and leave the teams wondering what was the license plate of the bus they were just thrown under?
We can’t make decisions… To be clear, we are very good at picking choices. We are wonderful at nodding heads and saying “yes” but we are absolutely abysmal at making and committing to decisions. When it comes to putting the rubber to the road, we are found to be lacking even the tires needed to hit the road.
Wait a minute. You just said we are very good at making choices, what’s the problem?
A choice is not a decision: A choice is picking someone to ask to prom night. A decision is saying “I do” to marry your spouse. When you go to Baskin and Robbins (A US based Ice Cream store) there are thirty-one choices of ice cream, but there is only one decision as to what you’ll get on that single scoop. A decision is a stake in the ground with clear accountability tied to it.
Accountability… There’s that scary word again. Don’t run away, it won’t bite. Accountability is easy. It can be fulfilled with Mark Horstman’s single law of project management., “Who, Does What, By When.”
You see, what so often happens is that everyone is sitting in the room and a plan is developed. People nod their heads, and maybe the guy who was really opposed decides now is not the time to object. But then there is no follow up. Sure it might have gotten documented in the meeting minutes, but no one was assigned ownership. No date was set. No specific plan was set. How do we know if it is done? How do we know if what was agreed is what is being done? How do you measure the “acceptance criteria?”
If a choice was made, you don’t. If a decision was documented then you have.
Hey now! Don’t run scared just because I used the “D” word. Documentation does not need to mean a twenty page requirements document. Documentation just needs to be “Who,” “What,” “When.” The only hard part is the what and if you define what by the acceptance criteria it can be pretty darn easy.
You have the power! Stop the déjà vu cycle! Don’t go through another Groundhog day again. Don’t let a meeting end without “Who,” What,” and “When” being written down and agreed to.
Change isn’t a bad thing. But changing because you didn’t agree the first time is a waste.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Talker
Want me to talk to your gorilla?
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

It’s 3:30, do you know where your gorilla is?

We were really cranking through the PowerPoint. I was so energized. We were finally making some honest to goodness progress on the project plan and I had some glimmer of hope that we’d make the next milestone.
All of a sudden Jake looks down at his phone. His face soured for a second and then he quickly shut his computer. “I’ve got to go to another meeting.”
Another meeting? I started to panic, but we were making so much headway! We had a great agenda and we were plowing through it. And besides, I’d scheduled this meeting weeks in advance and everyone knew just how important it was. Why was he leaving early?
Then Bob glanced at his phone, tapped a couple of keys and stood up. “Yeah, I’m late for a client meeting. Gotta run.”
Sigh… I was used to Bob texting in the meeting, but again this was scheduled! He knew it was scheduled.
Sue and Carlos started packing up their gear as well. No…
What was happening?
Hogarth leaned forward. His large size meant he could easily sit in a chair on the wall and still whisper into my ear. “Maybe you should check the time?” he offered.
The time? Wait, what? I looked down in the right corner of my computer screen… dang, in PowerPoint slide mode you can’t see your task bar, no clock. I looked up on the wall. Oh, right. The clock in this room was missing. Finally I dug into my back pocket to dredge out my iPhone.
3:05! Five minutes over? How did we get to be five minutes over? I had an agenda!!
Hogarth was there to offer his “helpful” advice. “Maybe a watch would help?”
I looked down at my bare wrist… “A watch? How 20th century, I’ve got an iPhone and a computer.”
He began to casually peal a banana, “How’s that working out for you?”
A Wrist Watch? A Wall Clock? Really?
It’s the digital age. I’ve got a clock in my car, a clock on my computer, a clock in my iPhone, a clock on the desk phone. There are clocks in almost every piece of technology out there. So why then do we need wrist watches and wall clocks anymore?
Why indeed…
Perception and Effectiveness
I have talked about Effectiveness many times, you can read an entire blog on it here. And Perception is really just another aspect of effectiveness. If perception is off, then you can’t be fully effective.  So it can be said that perception is effectiveness.
So why isn’t my iPhone effective? It does everything I need!
Efficiency is not always effective. The iPhone (or any other smart phone) is a wonderful tool and it is not unlike my own mantra of a $200 tool box over a $1000 dollar screwdriver. And while the iPhone can do everything, it is sometimes like trying to use a Swiss Army knife the size of a loaf of bread to screw together a set of eyeglasses, big and cumbersome. Or in the iPhone’s case, it is the perception that is an issue. The toolbox is better than the platinum screwdriver, but you have to take tools out of the toolbox to be effective.
Look from the outside. You see someone pulls their phone from their pocket. They do something with it, and then they put it back. What did they just do? There in lies the problem. When you can do any of a thousand things, people may well assume he’s doing something other than checking the time. “Did he just get a text message from Bob? I knew Bob didn’t like me.” Much like in the “I can see you Gorilla”, people typically will assume you are doing something not productive when you are fiddling with your phone. This  isn’t just about being in meetings. A wrist watch may be a single tasker device and thus not “efficient”, but it is a highly effective device. When you look at it, people know exactly what you are doing. It is incredibly easy to use as well. Sure, your cell phone is on the table and you just have to push a button. Your watch is on your wrist, just roll your arm two inches and look down, simple.
An analog wall clocks serves an equal value, especially in meetings. If you run an effective meeting, you have a time boxed agenda. Each item starts at a specific time. That wall clock makes it easy for everyone to know what time it is. Post the agenda right next to it and people can see exactly where the meeting is.
Everyone has a computer, they all know what time it is!
 In an ideal world, only the presenter would have a laptop. Of course we don’t live in an ideal world and most folks will have their own laptop, so why not just have everyone use the clock on the screen? Is their computer’s time correct? Can they see the clock with the stuff on their screen? Do they look at the clock? Manager Tools also pointed out that a digital clock can lead to a disassociation with time passage. You look at the clock and it say 1:30. That’s a single snapshot in time. You look at a wall clock and you can see a visual representation of how much time is left, is passing, has passed.
My advice
Wear a watch: It’s a highly effective tool. People know exactly what you are doing when you look at it. An added bonus is the watch can help to improve your overall appearance and looking professional is effective.
Own a wall clock: I have my own clock. I take it with me to any meeting where I’m not 100% sure the wall clock works and is easily visible (If the clock is on one wall and the projection screen on the opposite wall, people have to turn around to see the time). Fashion up a little stand for it and place it at the end of the table.
Keep you phone in your pocket: Put it on stun and leave it in your pocket. Remove the temptation to check it .
No computers in the meeting: I already referred to the “I can see you Gorilla”, but it bears repeating. Recently it was reported that the head of Google declared no more laptops in his meetings. If the uber technology head of Google sees the value of leaving the laptop home, maybe there is something to this thing…
Stay on time, stay effective:
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



Welcome to the weekly team meeting!

It’s six months to go until the product ships. We just finished a gripping argument on what constitutes a pass in the QA test benchmarks. I’m not sure but I think we settled on 95% pass rate, it might be 90% I’d have to check my notes. We are now doing a review of outstanding product change orders. Engineering wants to remove a major feature? Their argument is the project is behind schedule and this feature will take to much work. As arguments start to dive into yet another rat hole, you realize that no one is even mentioning that your chief competitor is stealing market share hand over fist with their new release. A new release that is already better then your next planned release.

Not even with Hogarth sitting there the business paper open to an article all about our competition.

Oh, right! Meet  Hogarth. He’s sitting down the table, wedged between the QA director and the product manager, quietly reading his newspaper and ignoring everyone else. It’s a bit of tight fit, but what do you expect from an 800 pound gorilla?

Say hello to the “gorilla in the room”.

The phrase itself is a modification of the English idiom, “the elephant in the room”, Wikipedia defines this as – “An obvious truth that is being ignored or goes un-addressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem no one wants to discuss.  It is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there might be concerning themselves with relatively small and even irrelevant matters, compared to the looming big one.’  (From Wikipedia )

Like many people in the ‘Valley’, a good friend of mine and fellow Project Manager Wendy WorthingtonBarnes*, likes to call it the “gorilla in the room”; as so often that gorilla takes on the power of the 800 pound gorilla,  “an overbearing entity in a specific industry or sphere of activity” (From Just as Microsoft is the 800 gorilla of consumer operating systems, the teams abject denial of the competitors new release is the 800 pound gorilla in the meeting.

I like to refer to the gorilla in the room as “that looming problem that has the power to crush your project into dust and leave the team wondering what was the license plate of the bus they were just tossed under.”

As project managers, we find ourselves facing the gorilla all the time.  Often we are the only ones even willing to address the gorilla, and we run into fascinating challenges in how to get everyone else to face the gorilla. Sometimes it isn’t possible and/or worth trying to talk to people about the gorilla.  When that happens you just find yourself staring at him, doing your best to manage around him and sometimes, since no one else will listen,  talking to him.

That’s what this blog is all about. Observations and stories about the various and sundry gorillas I’ve encountered within my years as a high tech professional. So welcome to my observations, ideas, challenges and triumphs in dealing with the “gorilla in the room”.

Wendy calls her gorilla Stanley.

I call my gorilla Hogarth.

What do you call your gorilla?

Joel BC

Professional Gorilla Talker


*- The title of this blog was inspired by Wendy WorthingtonBarnes and I would be remiss without giving her the proper credit. When I wanted to start this blog, my thoughts for a title were very disconnected with what I wanted to do with the blog. She reminded me about the gorilla in the room and how often we face it and the rest, as they say, is history.