Miss Manners is a Gorilla

Photo by _Faraz @ Flickr

“Awesome, that’s great news. Send me the details as soon as you get them.” I put down the phone and leaned back in me chair. I sat for a minute collecting my thoughts. Then with a smile splitting my face I let out a long sigh of relief.


That was close, way to close. If Gus hadn’t come through at the last minute, the entire release would have gone into the toilet, along with my career. Raising my coffee cup in salute, I said “You dodged another one old boy.” Bringing the mug to my lips I took a healthy swig of the lukewarm coffee.


And nearly spit it out all over Hogarth.


Swallowing hard, I set the cup down and glared at my gorilla, now sitting across my desk from me. “Go away, Hogarth, I’m not letting you ruin this.” I held up my hand and started ticking off my points. “I used my relationship power when we needed something in a rush.” One finger. “I had that relationship power because I get out from behind desk and walk around.” Two fingers. “We had this on our plan because we thought about risks because we reviewed our previous projects.” Three fingers. “And we played it by the book, even though it would have been so much easier to cut corners and go around the system.” I leaned back in my chair and gave him a smug, self satisfied look. “So take your dour face and pester someone else, you got nothing on me.”


Hogarth stared at me for long seconds, his dark eyes pinning me to my chair and making me squirm. This wasn’t fair, I’d done it all. I’d been professional, I’d been effective, I’d headed of the risks at the pass, I’d helped the team through difficult waters without taking charge. What on earth could he find fault with?


He didn’t speak, which made it all the more unnerving. He just reached one of his massive furred hands out and laid it on the desk. As his hand drew back it revealed something laying on my desk. It was a square bit of paper, no more like a large business card. Leaning forward I could see it was really a card that opened. I turned my lamp so I could read the front of it better.


Thank you



A thank you card? What on earth was he thanking me for? I mean if anyone should be thanking anyone, not that I would ever admit it to him, of course, I should be thanking Hogarth.


Wait… Gus… Oh, heck…





I was recently reminded how much people take good manners and politeness for granted. I was in a conversation with some non-work colleagues. One of them was in the middle of a job interview process. I’d asked him if he’d sent his thank you cards yet. One of the other people in the group said “I don’t send thank you cards, there just so old fashioned…”


A bottle of Dom Pérignon has been made in much the same way for the last hundred years. That doesn’t make it old fashioned, that makes it good.


A standard longbow made today is made in much the same way a longbow was made a thousand years ago. It works, don’t break it.


The wheel has the same basic shape it had four thousand years ago. Why reinvent the wheel?


Today we have iPhones, netbooks, email, voicemail, fax, video chat, high speed data connections and more. The technology we have today would seem like witchcraft 200 years ago and pure science fiction for most of us even fifty years ago. Like the Bionic Man technology has made us better, stronger and faster than before. And that still doesn’t change who we are. Good manners have been around for a heck of a lot longer than email. Email doesn’t suddenly mean all the politeness of the world can be bottled up in a couple of sideways colons and closed parenthesis (ASCII smiley faces). 


I’m simply amazed how often even the most basic politeness is forgotten in the work place.


  • When you pass someone in the hall, smile and nod. Heck, even say hello. Don’t stare at the ground and pretend they are not there.
  • Say “Thank you” whenever someone does something even close to nice. Even “Thanks” is an improvement over a guttural grunt. This includes the cashier at lunch.
  • Don’t interrupt when someone is speaking. (I know, the DISC model talks about High Ds and High Is being okay with this. They are not the whole world. Even if they are okay with it, the High S listening in will be horrified).
  • Chew with your mouth closed. Now I may be showing my US based culture here. I honestly don’t know if this is culturally okay in other parts of the world. In the US, it’s not.


Beyond the basics there are a couple of key manner tools that are must haves in your manager tool bag.


  • Thank You Cards: Honest to goodness handwritten thank you cards. When you interview*, send them to everyone who interviewed with you. If you have someone in a mentor like role, send them a Thank You card with a gift card inside from time to time. If someone at work bails your butt out of a major jam, send them a Thank You card (again, a gift card can’t hurt). And before one of you says it, yes, you should send them when you interview. A Thank You card is a thank you it doesn’t ask for anything in return. It is not something to get you a job, its something that is the right thing to do. Send a card no matter what, it will pay off in the long run.


  • Recommendations/Praise: Corporate culture operates very much on perception. Perception only works if people are aware. If Susan in accounting saved your bacon and you are in her debt, the thank you card with a Starbucks gift card is nice. Sending an email to her boss to tell them how awesome Susan is, is one step better. When it comes time for reviews, Susan has those notes in her brag file and can roll them out to remind her boss how good she is.


Miss Manners isn’t an antique. She’s the wisdom of the ages.


Thank you,
Joel and Hogarth


How is a Gorilla Project Manager like R2-D2?

“So what do you do?” 

See, this is why I hate dinner parties. Now if I was a doctor, a pilot, heck even a mechanic, it would be easy. I’d just say it and we’d move on to the meaningless small talk portion of the evening. But no… I had to decide to become a project manager, even worse an agile project manager. With a deep internal sigh I sized up the person who had just asked me the question. 

Neil was nice enough, but I could already tell it was going to be an uphill battle. He was the neighbor of the host who was a friend of my wife’s. I already knew Neil was in Real Estate (he’d left a stack of his business cards in the bathroom), I didn’t relish the next few moments.  

“I’m a project manager.”  

Neil cocked his head to the side. The look of confusion on his face was all too familiar. Taking a breath I tried to explain. I don’t know why I did. It’s not like I’d ever had any success before. And yes, I’ve tried the “I heard cats for a living.” I really didn’t want to be asked what circus I worked for again.  

“I’m responsible for managing the scoping, planning and execution of project deliverables with a cross functional team in order to get a product shipping.”  

“Oh, so you’re a manager?” Neil asked. Of course what he was really asking was if I was in charge of people. Why is it that a measure of your worth is how many people call you boss?  

I shake my head, “No, I don’t have direct reports. My job is to facilitate the project and help the core team deliver.”  

“Like a hostage negotiator?”  

I sighed. Smiling, I nodded my head. “Yeah, just like that.”  


I wasn’t even going to try and explain how agile project managers were more like coaches. Not being a sports fan myself I didn’t want the conversation to go down the rat hole of how I thought the local pro sports teams would do this season. 

Just then I spotted a dark shape duck around the side of the house. Hiding a groan I excused myself from Neil and left the smell of BBQ cooking on the patio behind me. Coming around the corner of the building I found what I feared most.  

“Hogarth, let go of that branch.”  

Hogarth turned towards me still holding onto a large branch sticking out from the tree in the side yard.. “This is an Arkansas Black apple tree, do you know how rare those are?”  

“Hogarth, you can’t eat that tree, it’s not yours.”  

He gave a sigh and let go of the tree. “Fine…” He flopped to the ground and picked at the overgrown lawn. “You won’t begrudge me a little grass, will you? I’ll give you the secret of explaining your job.”  

“Hogarth, I’ve been a project manager for years. There are even people in my company that don’t have a clue what a PM is.”  

Nibbling some of the green grass he looked up at me a smiled a toothy white grin. “That’s ‘cause you never told anyone that you’re R2-D2.”  



R2-D2 – Robot side kick to the Skywalker’s of Star Wars and Agile Project Manager: He’s not the hero of the show and he’s never been a leader, but it would be hard to imagine the Star Wars universe without this plucky little trashcan on wheels. But what does R2 have to do with being project manager? 

Everything! R2 is the ultimate Agile Project Manager. Or perhaps we project managers are the ultimate R2 Astromech droids.

R2-D2 knew all about responsibility without authority: Princess Leia, his project sponsor, assigned him the project but gave him no resources to do it with. He even had to track down the product owner for more information. He enlisted C3PO on the force of their relationship alone. As the project progressed he collected more resources on influence or by working with his project team.  

R2-D2 understood that project requirements change: When his sponsor first gave him the project it was very simple, get this message to Obi Wan Kenobi (his product owner) so that Kenobi could stop the Death Star. But he knew the requirements would change. He didn’t demand a full list of requirements before he headed for the escape pod. He was confident that future backlog grooming would reveal more requirements. He also knew that iteration planning would break the epic scale user stories down into smaller stories and tasks. So he started the first sprint with just a couple of user stories. Engage existing resources. Get off the Ship. Don’t get shot.  

R2-D2 knew how to motivate his teams: When R2 met Luke Skywalker, he knew who the boy was. He leveraged past project retrospectives for that (Okay, he was in the first three movies). So with that in mind do we really think he accidentally showed Luke the holo of the princess? Heck no! He remembered that Obi Wan told Senator Bail Organa he would watch over the boy. So by revealing the holo, not only would he possibly find a clue to where his product owner (Kenobi) was, but also could motivate the young man to help the project.  

R2-D2 knew his job was to guide the use of proper process, but also knew that sometimes you trust your team: Process said you used a targeting computer when firing a proton torpedo. But he chose to trust his team member, Luke, when he turned off the computer. Good thing he didn’t stick to rigid process enforcement, right?  

R2-D2 knew all about removing impediments: Shut down the trash compactor. Fix the hyper-drive. Stop the elevator from falling. Shift power to the rear deflector shields. Open this door. Put C3PO’s head back on. Put C3PO’s head back on, again. When his project team encountered an impediment he jumped right in and owned clearing that impediment.  

R2-D2 was the ultimate servant leader: R2 knew exactly what needed to happen. After all, he’d been working on related projects since the Phantom Menace. By the time it came time to destroy the Death Star, good old R2 knew all the players. He could have told Luke that Vader was his dad on the first day they met. But he didn’t. He knew he had to let his team member discover some things himself. Instead he carefully guided his team member on the path. 

He was never the hero, but he always saved the day. He worked quietly and tirelessly in the background to ensure all went well. Emperor Palpatine may not have known who he was, but his team did and they appreciated him for his efforts. 

So you see, the next time someone asks you what you do for a living. Stand up proud and declare. 

“I’m R2-D2.”


Gorilla Flight 030 now departing…

“Arrgh! I already told you, he’s no longer with the company!”
Bob’s blood pressure had to be rising. Yes, his door was open, but I was also six cubes down the hall and could hear every word he said easily. He was talking on the phone, so I had to imagine what the other side was saying, but I could imagine.
“Look, I was his manager, I just want his laptop for a couple of hours so we can get some files off it. What? Yeah, fine, send me the paperwork and I’ll sign it, just get me the laptop.”
Tully had been a junior product manager, working for Bob. He’d been with us for about a year and he’d done such an amazing job that he’d been given the entire GARGAMEL product. And then MacroServe had recruited him away to work on their new game system. It was a dream job, dream pay and he’d jumped.
Only problem was he’d jumped only a week after giving notice and just before Bob left on a week trip to Asia. Tully handed his laptop off to IT and turned his badge over to the department admin on his last day. Bob had been chasing IT for the last week, to try and get Tully’s computer and all the files related to GARGAMEL.
Two hours later, Gus, the IT guy, walked by towards Bob’s office a laptop under his arm. Lumbering in his wake, Hogarth sidled into my cube. Plopping into the spare chair he grinned around a mouthful of banana.  “This is going to be good.”
I raised my eyebrows to my gorilla. “What do you mean?”
“Wait for it…”
Two minutes later Gus walked back, headed for the basement lair of all things IT. I turned and looked at Hogarth, raising my eyebrow again. Peaking over the cover of “How to win friends and influence people” he said “Wait for it…”
A minute later I heard a strangled cry from Bob’s office. This was followed by the most forceful phone dialing I’ve ever heard.
“Yes, this is Bob. Yeah, I got the laptop. NOW WHAT’S THE BLOODY PASSWORD!”
Hogarth set Carnagie’s book down. “Ah Tully, the grass was so green he didn’t stop to smell the roses of departure.”
I think the scariest thing about Hogarth’s words were that I understood what he meant completely.
Transition Planning, are you ready?
With the economy on the recovery we are not just seeing the jobless rate slowly creep down. We are also seeing the jobful starting to stick their heads up from their cubes and wonder if there might be a better cube out there. So say you have done that and the company down the road has offered you this really great cube. They really like you, they really want you to join their team and they made it worth your while.
So the question is, what about your current job?
“What do you mean whatta about my current job? I haven’t had a raise in four years! After surviving four layoffs I’m doing the work of six and there isn’t any sign the bosses want to hire again. Even if we have made huge profits the last two quarters.”
Ah, yes. There can be any number of reasons why you have no regrets on leaving your current employer. Or you could even not want to leave, but this new job is the perfect career move or will mean you can start paying down your debt. The question is, what will you do in the time between your resignation and the last day?
If you follow Hogarth’s advice, you’re going to be a very busy person. Manager-Tools did a three podcast series on “How to resign” (link is to the first cast). In this cast Mark and Mike outline twelve steps to resigning. Some of these only apply if you have direct reports, a large chunk have to do with you personally. As project managers (or any effective individual contributor) the key points are:
‐ Prepare a Key Project Report – Transition File*
What is the current status of any projects you are working on? Where are all the documents located? Who is responsible for what?
This isn’t a one page document, this is the keys to all your projects. Any files related to these projects should be put on a repository that can be accessed by multiple people.  With storage technology so compact, I’d also recommend putting your projects on a flash drive (A 4GB USB Thumb Drive is less than $15). You can hand that over to your boss an ensure the files will passed on.
Include the plans for the next three months. You’re the project manager so not just your plans but the project plans. People need to know not just where the project has been, but where is it supposed to go.
‐ Prepare instructions for your absence*
This is for everything else you do. Go look at your calendar and your to do list (for the next three months). What things are you doing? What department activities are you responsible for. Are you the only person who knows how to generate evaluation licenses for beta? Make sure you document them. Better yet, get someone identified and train them.
*- Credit where credit is due: These steps direct from the MT podcast. Descriptions are my own paraphrase of their advice, but is directly based on MT content.
You don’t do all this because you are required to do it, I’ve never known a company that has requirements for an outgoing employee. You do this because it is the professional thing to do. It is the right thing to do. I won’t trot out the ethics conversation in detail, but Project Mangers live and breath by our professionalism. The joke used to be “Silicon Valley is a small place”. I updated that joke recently to say “Silicon Valley is a small place and it spans the whole globe.” Don’t burn your bridges, they can’t easily be rebuilt.  And if you build a few bridges on your way out, all the better.
Two weeks is not enough:
So Hogarth’s example is on the dramatic side. Tully gave only a weeks notice and his boss was out of town for most of that time. Everyone generally accepts that two weeks is the “professional” thing to do. Long before I ever listened to Manager Tools (who also recommend four weeks), I didn’t agree with this. Sure, if you work at MacDonalds then two weeks is probably just fine. However, If you are in any kind of management job or major individual contributor role, then two weeks just isn’t enough time. Four weeks gives you enough time to train a replacement, to update any documents that need updating, to ensure smooth transitions with time for questions. Four weeks is professional (there I go again).
“But my new company wants me to start right away.”
Of course they want you to. But do they really need you to? If the answer is yes, then that’s a whole other series of red flags. Any company that is so demanding that you start “right away” may be hiding some big issues under that job offer. The company that wants you to start “next week” probably is hoping you’ll fix them right away. Go read the “90 day gorilla” for why that’s just bad.
Tell your new company you want to be professional and give enough time to transition your duties. Nine times out of ten you’ll have just been moved up a notch in their eyes. “This guy is a pro, we made the right decision.”
Always one to practice what I preach, let me share with you my own experience. In one of my prior company’s I did an almost five week transition. When I sat down with my boss, she was surprised but also very happy with my offer to stay that long and ensure a good transition. The interesting reaction came from people all over the company, as I informed them or the word of my departure spread. I got more than one question along the lines of “Why are you staying so long?” or statements like “I’d be out of here so fast, you’d see a cloud of dust.” Three weeks later I got a different reaction. More than one manager/director level person pulled me aside and thanked me for one of the most professional transitions they’d ever seen. They appreciated the transitions I’d did with their teams, the time I’d taken to make myself available and my positive attitude.
And my new company was more than happy to let me have that time. I had more than one positive comment on how long my transition was. I very much had the impression that I’d created a good impression because of the time I dedicated to the company I was leaving. “If he puts that kind of effort into a place he’s leaving, what will he do here?”
Be prepared: The Boy Scout motto is a very excellent tale of advisory caution to this advice. When you do resign, be prepared for that day to be your very last day. Though I believe it is much rarer now, some companies have been known to take the attitude that someone who resigns is a danger or threat. This can range from “He’ll steal all our company secrets,” to “If he sticks around, he’ll encourage others to leave.”
Because of this, ask yourself if you are prepared to walk from your bosses office straight to your car? Have you prepared your departure packet? Can they take your files and at least understand them and carry forward with them? Or is everything locked inside your PC, that IT will confiscate and your boss won’t be able to get the files off of even after a month of asking?
Many years back, I worked in technical support. It was a great team and the manager was a great guy. I gave the normal two weeks notice and told him I’d work full tilt right up to the last day. He was very appreciative, but turns out the decision wasn’t his. The “company” was worried about turn over in the group I was in and decided it was better to minimize my exposure to others. I’d resigned at 9:00 am. At 2:00 pm I was walking out the front door, a box of effects and a check for the next two weeks time. They would have rather paid me two weeks severance than have me around the other tech support reps.
In the end, you have to live with yourself. Did you give the job everything you could? Did you do what was right? Amazing how ethics and conscience are so inexorably tied together.
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