Animals, Agility and Project Management

The teacher Danitza is trying to use animals as a way to explain the different management approaches that may be required to tackle different situations.  The class of fifteen students becomes very attentive when she puts up a picture of a dog using the overhead projector.

Images can create powerful lessons

The teacher says, “I have learnt that images are very powerful ways to get messages across and I’m using this method today. Lets get some suggestions on the characteristics of a dog.”

Kristen, a student, in the middle of the classroom says, “Dogs are generally domesticated animals.”

“Excellent Kristen. Lets follow this mental image of this as we go to our next slide.”

Danitza continues,“ well a dog  is predictable.  Easy-to-use concepts can be applied for successful training and assimilation into the family.”

Various inputs are roused from the class as the imagery inspires conversation.

Renato, another student says, “So I see where you are going. We have circumstances here where we can use proven techniques.”

And others contribute to the conversation.

“A dog usually doesn’t present a complicated situation.”

“A dog does not usually express aggressive behavior and you don’t have to be alert all the time to manage a dog”

Danitza says, “So with these thoughts from the class I will put up another slide.

The teacher continues, “Similarly some projects, have very little complexities and uncertainties. We could use proven, well-tested management methodologies and best practices. These projects do not necessarily require quickness or agility due to the inherent characteristics. Having said that, I will like to move to the other extreme of the spectrum. Let us consider a bull.”

She presses the remote control to change slides.

“This new slide shows a bull in all his rage. Let us discuss what images this pictures depict in your mind. Different suggestions are discussed in the class.

“Bulls can get out of control quickly.”

“Requires alertness and agility.”

“Requires a lot of caution.”

“Large and complex.”

Danitza put up a new slide.

“Even though bulls are complex and uncertain they require agility to handle them.  There is also a safety-critical component for the matador.” Danitza goes on to say.

Everyone is excitedly contributing to the conversation.

“ The matador is faced with significant exposure and is highly skilled.”

“It also requires flexibility, as no two bulls would be the same in terms of aggression.”

“It also requires a more specialized environment like an arena for the matador to be trained and ready for the bull fighting.”

Similar to bulls and bull-fighting, some projects require agility, flexibility and adaptation; however,  it requires a significant process to frame and contain the situation.

Everyone in the room is understanding as the message is at the surface and not buried under a sea of complicated language.

“OK, let us consider another animal…cows.” The teacher says. She flips to the next slide.

She continues, “Cows are large but not fast. They have a more relaxed demeanor and require a large infrastructure…farmlands and different processes to maintain them.”

Hands are raised and the classroom is a flurry of activity and conversation.

“There is less risk as compared to a bull. Many people depend on the successful raising of cows for meat and milk.”

“It requires a disciplined approach, as the farmers would have a proven methodology for raising the cows. “

“So in project-cow”, Danitza says, “We have a situation that will require less agility but can be big on process and methodology and also can be a large source of revenue.”

Another slide is presented for the students.

“There is one more animal that we will speak of today. It is the Colt.” Danitza looks at the class intently and puts up another slide.

Colt - Low Complexity and High Uncertainty

“Colts are like new products. They require a lot of daily attention to raise them successfully. Let’s generate some more ideas on Colts.”

Again there is a flurry of activity with various suggestions.

“It requires the trainer to react quickly with agility due to their unpredictable energy.”

“They can have the same unpredictability as bulls.”

“So project Colt is agile with less complexity than project Bull. “

“Fantastic. I believe that today the imagery has helped us to understand some concepts around various situations and the processes, culture, infrastructure and attitude required to successfully manage them. Remember that even though the processes and methodologies may vary, the overarching guide is the Purpose and Goal. So class, what would be the ultimate Goal of having a dog?”

Kristen says, “Well I would think companionship and love is obtained.”

“Excellent Kristen, regardless of the processes, methodologies and cultures that are adopted, we should always have a clear sight to the ultimate goal that we are trying to achieve.”

Renato smiles and says, “Thanks so much for the valuable lesson today.  I clearly understand that the approach to project management needs to be adaptable so as to improve the chances of  seizing opportunities, simultaneously reducing uncertainty and mitigating risks, while focusing on the goal . Now I can go and apply the principles to real circumstances.”

Bibliography and additional reading:

Little Tod. Context-Adaptive Agility: Managing Complexity and Uncertainty.

Schmidt Terry. Strategic Project Management Made Simple: Practical Tools for Leaders and Teams: Wiley (March 16, 2009) -

Highsmith Jim. Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products Kindle Edition – Kindle eBook (July 10, 2009)

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