My in-law’s family is in the farming business in Ireland. Years ago, I saw Ginger (one of the best dogs they had) was gathering a large flock of ewes and lambs for my farther in-law but she was bringing the sheep unusually slowly. From a distance I couldn’t make out why but as they got closer, I saw that one very small lamb was lame. Ginger was walking alongside it, bringing the entire flock at a pace the lamb could manage.
A good sheepdog should be a valuable assistant to the shepherd or sheep farmer. It will learn where the sheep (or other stock) are likely to be in each field, and it will gather them together calmly, and not leave any behind. A really good sheepdog will even recognize if one or more animals is in difficulty, and attempt to draw the handler’s attention to it. A sheepdog should have the “power” to bring or drive them wherever you want it to without unduly stressing or damaging them in any way. Sheepdog Power made me think about the project management skills.
A project team is like a group of scattered sheep. Some move faster, some slower; some are organized, some are lost. They can be heading in different directions from time to time. The project manager is just like the sheepdog, keeping the sheep safe, together, moving forward. Recognize the ones that are in difficulty, managing the team pace to move everyone along together. During the process, the sheep dog has to keep the sheep within the farm boundary, stay away from motor vehicles and other risks that could cause an issue; bringing the sheep to the final destination. As a project manager, recognizing where the team is at, and bringing everyone along to the right direction, eventually arriving at the defined destination is the ultimate goal of a project. Managing a project is just like the sheep guarding, we have restrictions along the way. We have scope to stay within, and a budget to manage. We have to watch out for the risks during the execution. Bring the team to arrive at the destination at the agreed time is when the project is delivered.
The sheep dog example demonstrated very good task management skills, even some servant leadership. However, project management is not as simple as sheep guarding, we have complications about customer satisfaction, communication and price negotiation. These are your soft skills, project managers! On top of your tactical skills, your soft skills are what makes you stand out in the crowd.
After the sheepdog story, now we can go back to look at how Project Management definition is written. According to Wikipedia:
Project management is the practice of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria at the specified time. The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all of the project goals within the given constraints.
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