How to be a Gorilla Manager: In five easy steps

 

Dear Hogarth,

I want to become project manager. Can you give me some advice on what to do?
Thanks,
– Aspiring cat herder
Dear Aspiring,
Run, run as far as you can.
Barring that, I recommend you have your head examined. I mean, seriously, if you do your job well no one will notice you. If the project fails, you’ll be standing right next to the product manager when they roll out the firing squad. Why would you want to put yourself through that?…
“Hogarth!”
My gorilla looked up from the keyboard, banana sized finger poised over the Return key. “What? Oh right, let me guess.” He sat back in my chair. Amid the creaking protests of my chair he did a disturbingly accurate imitation of me. “Hogarth! What on earth are you doing?” He grinned at me, “that about cover it?”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. The pounding ache behind my eyes was threatening to burst out like some bad horror flick monster. “Yes, that covers it.”
Hogarth said, “good, then we have that covered. That was easy.”
“Hogarth…” I said menacingly.
He held up his hands. “Oh, right, what am I doing? I was just checking my email. Someone wanted some advice on becoming a project manager.”
I blinked, “you have email?”
“Well duh. It’s the 21st century, of course I have email.” He shook his head like I’d asked the craziest question ever.  Okay, maybe I did. Did I?
Shaking my head I tried a different tack. “You were giving advice on becoming a project manager?”
He nodded, “Yep, don’t.”
“Don’t?” I asked. “You do realize what I do for a living?”
Hogarth nodded, “Yep and that’s why I’m advising him not to.  You’re losing your hair, you’ve got an ulcer, and heaven knows that no one appreciates your work. Why on earth would anyone want to be a project manager?”
“Because I like helping people!”
Hogarth pointed a paw at the screen, “Okay, help him…”
And once again I had been Hogarthed.
Advice for the aspiring Project Manager (Scrum Master or Coach)
What advice would I give to a young project manager? While the urge to advise him or her to “run, run very fast,” is fairly strong, it is also entirely unhelpful. And I really do like to help people, something I think makes me a good project manager, scrum master, coach, leader, etc.
So if I were to be giving advice to Josh Nankivel‘s students, what would I say? There are so many pithy, trite, over used things I could say. I could call on the masters of PM and just quote them. I could call on the masters of business, military or the circus and quote them.
And doing that would do two things. 1- Put the students to sleep, 2- Absolutely be nothing about me and the passion that makes me successful.
So my advice would be what works for me. Be a leader.
“Oh, right, that’s real helpful.”
You’re right, that falls into the “pithy but true” category. The question is, how to be a leader? How to move from managing to being the visionary, the inspirer, the front of the charge or the wind beneath their wings.
For myself, it is following five personal principles. These are principles I’ve come to hold over my life and drive how I live my life and do my job.  It may not work for  everyone, but if I’m going to give advice, I should damn well have some passion for what I’m advising.
“So what are those five principles?”
Right, good question. Below are my five guiding principles and a short explanation. After presenting them at the PMI Silicon Valley annual symposium, in October of 2011, I began referring to them as the “Gorilla Equation,” the five “x” factors that make a good managers. 
The Gorilla Equation
  1. People, Not projects.
  1. Communication is 100% of your job.
  2. Process is a tool, not a roadblock.
  3. There is no, one, right way.
  4. All roads lead back to the customer

People, not projects: This is the foundation principle in the Gorilla Equation. Without this foundation the rest lack a structure to sit on. If I focus on helping the team become a high performing one, the team will do better. A better team leads to a better product and I firmly believe this combination will lead to a better world. 

I spend every day of my job trying to make myself obsolete by enabling the team and helping them grow.

Communication is 100% of your job: PMI says communication makes up about 80% of a PMs job. I say it’s 100%. Think about what a project manager does. You’d be hard pressed to find anything that doesn’t involve some manner of communication.  Not only is it 100% of your job, but you need to be adding value to every communication you are involved in. You are not an operator, you are more like the chief operation officer for your team. It’s your job to facilitate all the communication and enhance it along the way.

Process is a Tool, not a roadblock: Don’t ever let process take control of your project. If a process does not contribute value to the end user/ end goal, then look at dropping it,  streamline it, or focus it. Make sure your process is not subverting principle 1 or 5.

There is no, one right way: If I want to go from San Francisco to New York there are dozens of options (Different airlines, driving, train, cruise ship, even biking) and any one of them could be the right way for me, depending on my goals and constraints. Anytime you here “That’s the way we have to do it” ask “Why?” If something has to be done, be open to if there is an easier way to do it. Inspect and Adapt.

All roads lead back to the customer: Where “People, not projects” is the foundation principle. “All roads” is the guiding mantra. Rooted in my original high tech job in customer support its been like that beacon in the night that lost ships yearn for. If you can’t map what you are doing to some impact to the customer, then you should be asking why you are doing it.

Five principles, one result. Better me, better teams, better product, better world.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Talker
Want me to talk to your gorilla? mailto:jbancroftconnors@gmail.com
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

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