Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Guys (or Gals) in Grey Suits

Illustration enhanced by D. Lamb, PMP
I am a big fan of Shark Week on Discovery Channel and this is their 27th year. There are over 350 different types of sharks in the world, including a cookie cutter shark. Several of the better known sharks are Makos, Reef, Lemon, Hammerheads, Tiger, Bulls and the apex predator Great Whites. I agree with the marine biologist and conservationist, sharks are generally misunderstood.  Many are docile, intelligent and curious, but each one has a job to do and their job is important to the ecological balance. 

We need to continue to learn more about the shark and share that knowledge with others.    Some prefer deep water, but many stay around 50 or 60 feet.  Any shark will go into shallow water if they sense something of interest.  Sharks can smell blood from many miles away and are attracted to distressed or struggling animals.  Surfers in Northern California refer to these sharks as the “guys in grey suits” and understand the water is their domain and always show them respect.  I could not help but think of the parallels with project management.
Sharks are trying to prosper in their world with other marine animals, similar to project manager’s trying to thrive in the business world. I am sure you can think of different types of predators in your life. Other Sharks seem to always know who is on top and respect the bigger sharks.  Sharks will scatter when a bigger predator enters the area.  It is difficult to compare these sharks perfectly with a business hierarchy.  However, the Great White is powerful and intimidating.  This shark could be considered the CEO of their domain; I am sure you may have encountered a Great White on their way to the top.  At the next levels of the hierarchy are the Sr. VPs, VPs then Directors and Managers (i.e. Program, Project or Direct).  These positions could be related to Tigers, Hammerhead, Lemons and Bulls.  You may also encounter other intelligent marine mammals in this hierarchy, like whales and dolphins. 

A couple interesting facts, the biggest shark may not be the worst attacker.  The shark you really need to be cautious of is the Bull shark.  The Bull shark can survive in both a salt and fresh water world.  A Project Manager is wise to be cautious of the Bull shark, which is smaller than the great white, but a strong and indiscriminate attacker.  Another interesting fact, dolphins are highly intelligent and have been known to kill or at least highly deter sharks. I believe Project Managers are all different types of animals, but when swimming with a predator a dolphin may be a great choice.
As Project Managers we all know who the guys and gals are in the grey suits.  We have seen them from a distance or may have even come face-to-face.  What a Project Manager does in the situation can mean their survival.   Project Managers are not the normal prey. However, if a client or executive senses the Project Manager or the project is in distress, they can become agitated.  As with sharks, the client, executive or manager will generally give you a warning by bumping you first. If you are not prepared, the next pass will be a full bite.  Everyone who has survived a shark attack did not describe the attack as a bite, but more as intense pressure.  I believe every Project Manager has felt some kind of pressure in their careers.

As a Project Manager, it is essential to be prepared and have the right knowledge and tools at all times to handle any situation.  The right tools and knowledge can help create a barrier between you and the potential attack.  At the PW&WCBA you will be able to improve your knowledge and skills and learn, first to respect the “guys or gals in grey suits”, but also how to feed them the right information on a regular basis.  This will keep their hunger and any agitation under control.  You can use these skills to prepare and leave a leader.   
Come and join me at the 2013 Project World & World Congress for Business Analysts and learn the knowledge and skills necessary to swim with predators and prevent an attack or how to survive once attacked.  Register today at http://bit.ly/13jM72A.  I look forward to seeing you in Orlando!

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