CHAPTER 4: Juggle the balls or play the chess game?
Back in Chapter One I discussed how many project managers talk about ‘juggling balls’ as a way to explain how they run their projects. Personally I have a big problem with this. I’ve seen jugglers. They are amazing people. They pick up all sorts of objects, throw them up in the air, catch them, throw another, all the while moving and watching and praying that nothing will fall to the ground. Now don’t get me wrong, I admire jugglers. I just wouldn’t want them running any projects. You see, one of the impressions I’m always left with after seeing a juggler is that they’re out there for the ‘wow’ factor. How many objects they can keep up in the air at any one time. The more, the merrier. The more they have, the more they feel they will impress you. But it’s a game you can never win. To continue to impress you have to keep juggling more and more things and make the possible seem so close to impossible. Wait a minute, isn’t that how a lot of project managers appear to be? We’ve all seen them, laptops and bluster, scurrying from meeting to meeting, never a moment to spare. In the office before 8am and turning the lights off after 7pm. They must have really difficult projects to run!
Consider, on the other hand the world’s greatest chess players, the picture of serenity, water or coffee by their side, a quiet pensive look on their faces and concentration on all the things that are happening around them. They are even conscious about the time they take for things, pressing a button on a clock to signify the handover of participation in the event to someone else.
Now I’m not suggesting that either juggling or chess playing performed at the highest level is easy. And I’m not suggesting that both performers don’t practice for many hours to achieve what they do. But I will admit, jugglers do look damn impressive compared to chess players!
But let’s take a step back from these analogies and examine some of the parts behind the vision. Juggling involves becoming close with the objects you are juggling, getting to know them intimately and then controlling their every individual movement, never letting your guard down for a moment, even when objects aren’t quite in the exact place you had expected them to be. Chess, on the other hand, requires an understanding of the pieces at your disposal, understanding how they do and don’t work together, and how they can work together for you to achieve an end result against a somewhat unpredictable opponent. Like juggling, you can never let your guard down in case some of the pieces get out of place on the board.
There are lots of other analogies I could make, but hopefully you’re starting to get the picture by now. Juggling is ultimately about how many individual objects you can keep up in the air at any one moment and chess is about how you can tactically achieve an objective with a fixed set of pieces. Stated this way, why do any project managers ever talk about juggling balls? What has juggling got to do with successfully completing a project objective?
There’s another huge difference between juggling and chess playing that I alluded to in the last paragraph and that is how close you get to all the individual pieces. The juggler keeps everything up in the air, every problem and every issue. Every passing comment by a project member has to be juggled and kept moving. The chess player, on the other hand, understands who is responsible for each of the problems, issues, passing comment, and tracks with that person, not letting it interrupt the big picture.
I’m a chess player, and I’m proud of it!...
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"This book is filled with genuine, practical insights from an expert in the field of project management. The author describes a project management approach that you can apply to any type of project, whether you are a new or seasoned project manager. Read this book if you desire to be a project manager who adds value to your team and organization."
"If you are looking to do a great job as a PM and still have a life, get this book. It is written by a very practical project manager for individuals who would like to be more effective and practical in their role as PM. How do I know this? I worked with him for several years on long term international projects with large multinational team. This book accurately reflects what he preached and practiced on the projects and hence my recommendation. I did not decide to write this recommendation as a favor to the author but as a favor to individuals, who can use a really practical guide to managing project and have a life. This author with his approach made it possible for all the team members to have a real work-life balance even on the road. Under him, our team excelled in every area imaginable on a project. I am glad that he decided to put his thoughts into writing so others can benefit from his approach. This would also be a great book for someone starting out as a Project Manager, as well."
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