Category Archives: Management

Milk the cow when it’s in the barn!

Some years ago I worked for a friend of mine at his hotel in Austria. At that time they were only open during the summer holiday season as this was when they had most of their visitors. After the first week or so I asked him when I would be taking a day off.

“Day off?” he said, “But what would you do?”

I said well, relax, go for a swim, rest, that sort of thing.

He looked at me like I’d suddenly lost my mind and said,

“If I’m a farmer and I have to milk my cows, do I run around the field trying to milk them? That’s so much more work than milking them when they’re in the barn. This is what we’re doing here – we’re milking the cows when they’re in the barn.”

I didn’t have a day off for about 4 months.

While I don’t by any stretch of the imagination think of my clients today as cows, the metaphor still works. Working with those clients you have is much less effort than frantically chasing the clients you might be able to catch in the field.

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Expectation Management

It’s tempting sometimes to not tell a client about something that may come up during a project. After all, if whatever it is doesn’t happen all the time, maybe mentioning it will alarm a client more than simply dealing with it if it comes up. This can sound like the right approach but now I have a personal perspective on this.

A few weeks ago I had two wisdom teeth removed. I’d been told there was a risk of nerve damage, that the recovery would probably be painful and that it might take longer than I’d thought, so one could argue I was prepared.

However, on about the fifth day after the surgery I woke up with the taste of dead rat in my mouth. It was awful. I rinsed, I took drugs, I even ate something (difficult as I was still basically on a liquid diet) but the taste remained. I couldn’t sleep at night as every time I swallowed, I tasted dead rat.

So I went back to the surgeon, who had a quick look and said,

“Oh yeah, that’s pretty normal.”

In conversation with others I’ve discovered that it happens to at least half of those people whom I know have had wisdom teeth out. I’ve concluded that it must be some sort of chemical the body makes to aid in healing, as it gradually faded away over about a week.

Normal? Ok, I guess I have to readjust, but I confess I felt quite betrayed that no one had thought to tell me ahead of time that this was a more than 50% likely outcome.

So, next time you’re doing a project with a client and you think there’s a chance that what you’re doing will give the client the taste of dead rat, even for a short time, tell them. Better to know ahead of time that it’s a possibility than to suffer dead rat surprise.

Back to the beginning…

For those of you that haven’t seen The Princess Bride, you should. It’s a swashbuckling film with true love and true humour that still feels as good to see today as when it was released in 1987. Even better, it’s given me one of my all-time favourite reminders that I use at work all the time. When things get too confusing and a project feels like it has lost focus, run out of steam or is just plain failing, go back to the beginning – to your first principles.

In the movie, Inigo, a sword-for-hire, has received setbacks that threaten to undo his life’s work – taking revenge on the man who killed his father. Inigo has been defeated in a sword fight by a mysterious man in black, his best friend was beaten by the same guy and then his boss was killed. It seems like everything has fallen apart and so he goes to where his employer, Vizzini, always threatened to take him – back to the beginning. “The beginning”, as Vizzini saw it, was Inigo lying drunk on the bad side of town with no money and no friends. But, it’s only once he’s back at the beginning – drunk at the bottom of the barrel – that he can re-focus on what he wants to accomplish and what he needs to get there. Inigo realizes that the source of his misfortunes, the mysterious man in black, is actually the one person that will help him reach his objective.

This is not to say that mysterious strangers are always the answer, but it’s easy on projects to get distracted and find yourself unintentionally travelling in circles. When this happens, stop, take a breath and go back to the beginning. What is the objective? What’s the primary use case you’re seeking to serve? It’s only once you’ve done this that you’ll be able to move forward again.

Management ≠ prevention

An acquaintance of mine was employed as a risk manager on a project and like any good professional doing that job, identified the likely risks and mitigation strategies the team would employ. Later in the project, one of the previously-identified risk events occurred and was addressed in the way that was planned. The client took my acquaintance aside and said,

“How did this happen? I hired you so that we wouldn’t run into this situation!”

Isn’t it amazing how differently particular words can be understood?

When appended to a word like “time”, the understanding seems clear – time management can only mean how we deal with time, so in general terms how we influence or maintain control over time.

Substitute a word like “risk” or “change” into the same phrase, and people can choose to interpret it differently. Some appear to think that risk or change management means, “How can we stop these events from occurring?”

Listening is touted these days as a must-have skill. Agreed, absolutely, but just listening is not enough. We have to pay attention to how we interpret what we hear and ensure that everyone has a common understanding of what was said.