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Herding Change!!

March 2, 2018

I wish I had a pound for every time I have heard someone involved in managing change comment that it was like herding cats! But maybe that is just what we need to do and, instead of just invoking the thought at moments of frustration, it is something we should be embracing and learning to do better.

 

I love this video made by EDS and screened during the SuperBowl of 2000

 

I have often commented on how we need to find better ways to deliver business change in this modern world where the speed, complexity and scale of developments keeps growing and is clearly outpacing the ability of traditional methodologies to deliver and adapt.

 

Along the way I have often described to colleagues that I play human chess, getting the right people in the right places at the right time to do the right things. In this "game" there will always be some "strays" that have to be brought back to the main group (or maybe left to go their own way!).

This feels more like "herding" (hence the title above) than "managing" in the traditional sense. The trouble is that most of the "herding" metaphors I have come up with have as many undesirable connotations as useful ones. In using a "cattle herding" analogy I will doubtless upset stakeholders who will take offence at being considered as cattle while project staff  will probably resent the label "cowboys" and the behaviours associated with that term.

In contrast if I liken the management of projects to herding sheep, I can offend stakeholders again(!) and invoke a central control model where "shepherd" controls all the project workers (dogs).

Despite these risks I would like to examine the analogies a little further as there are some very relevant parallels.

Let me look at the cattle herding parallel first. It seems to me that the "trail boss" performs the role of project manager, understanding where the herd has to end up and making the key decisions about route, stops, managing risks and directing the response to issues as they arise. In estimating the resource they need, I doubt if they planned from the bottom up working out day-by-day what each cowboy would be doing. Instead he (or she) uses their experience to assess numbers and of course he never forgets the necessary support services, ie the chuck wagon, that will feed his men and additionally act as a contingent resource.

Each day the trail boss would send out the "cowboys" to move the herd forward, assessing and adjusting to the terrain and then deciding where and when to stop at night. He would probably also send  out a couple or outriders looking for better routes and potential trouble, thereby collecting information that is over his "horizon" and currently out of sight.

Some of the herd (read as "benefit" in project terms) maybe lost along the way, often there are competitors and other groups out to impede the progress of the herd and success can only be assessed once the herd has been delivered (and sold).

Are you too sensing the parallels? There are many days in the office when I feel like a trail boss and think that acknowledging that can help solve many of the problems I am employed to solve.

 

Maybe I do herd change as much as I project manage. Whatever the case I am proud of the results I achieve.

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