Storytelling is a powerful tool to educate young and old alike. When it comes to project management, we can draw upon multiple sources for learning so let’s try to identify the lessons we can learn from the popular fables we heard as children.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
Aesop provides us this well-known fable of the mischievous shepherd boy who tricks his neighbours into coming to the aid of his flock on multiple occasions. When a real wolf arrives and starts to attack his sheep, he is ignored and his flock is devoured.
We expect our sponsor and other senior leaders to handle escalations. But if we simply pass the buck and don’t own those actions, issues or risks which we could have addressed ourselves, they are not likely to respond in a timely manner when we finally bring a legitimate concern to their attention.
The Scorpion and the Frog
This is the contemporary fable of the frog who is unwilling to transport a scorpion across a river. The scorpion attempts to allay the frog’s fears by saying that if he stings the frog while being carried they will both drown. Midway across the river the scorpion stings the frog and explains to the frog as they both sink below the surface that it was in its nature to do so.
Cost Performance Index (CPI) provides an objective assessment of financial health and is unlikely to substantially improve once a project is more than 20% complete: “DOD experience in more than 400 programs since 1977 indicates without exception that the cumulative CPI does not significantly improve during the period of 15% through 85% of the contract performance; in fact it tends to decline.”
Project performance, like our scorpion, has difficulty changing its nature.
The Tortoise and the Hare
We’ve all heard this tale of the tortoise who challenges an arrogant hare to a long distance race. The hare starts the race with a comfortable lead over the tortoise but believing he can’t be beaten, takes a nap, during which time the tortoise catches up and passes him for the win.
Projects are usually more like a marathon than a sprint. If our team is working significant overtime to achieve early milestones, chances are they will burnout quickly and we’ll fall short of the finish line. Teams working a sustainable pace are able to do so indefinitely. In short, slow and steady wins the project race.
The Ant and the Grasshopper
In the summer, while the studious ants were busy foraging and hoarding food, the grasshopper was relaxing and enjoying himself. When winter finally came, the ants were well prepared and survived while the procrastinating grasshopper perished.
Student Syndrome often impacts project tasks when they have been excessively padded. Rather than use the excess time wisely, team members will get distracted with other work and when Murphy’s Law strikes, they have used up any buffer they had. Scheduling project tasks using aggressive estimates and consolidating buffers at a key milestone level provides one way to address the impacts of realized risks without becoming a starving grasshopper!
Willa Cather said “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”
Perhaps the same holds true for project managers!