Zen Project Management–Rule 1, don’t steal the plants

(I sometimes find it helpful to recite my blogs using different voices, like Neil Diamond.  You?)

Do you ever look back with amazement on how naïve you were in your first job?  You walk in, your head so full of knowledge it feels like it should explode.  You’re just waiting for that first opportunity to release the pearls of wisdom accumulated during all those years of schooling.  I was pretty sure I knew almost everything that needed knowing.

With my newly minted MBA, I worked as the assistant to the CFO of a large petroleum services firm in Fort Worth, Texas.  Lot’s of visibility, lot’s of people watching my every move.

My first day on the job, I was expected to attend a meeting at 7:30 AM.  Overtime.  I brought donuts, knowing how hungry everyone must be because they hadn’t had time to eat breakfast.  As I soon learned, the others in the room had been there since 6 AM for another meeting—they were not impressed by my offer of donuts.  My boss walked me over to an east-facing window an pointed at the orange ball of light floating above the horizon.

“That’s the sun,” he said.  “It’s been up two hours—so have we.  It comes up this time every morning.  Get used to it.”

That went well.  I noted later that five PM had come and gone and nobody made any attempt to rush the doors.  I decided to leave around seven.  As I waited for the elevator I noticed that two very large plants in very attractive pots were being thrown away.  They’d be perfect for my barren apartment.  It took me several trips to get the plants and pots situated in my TR-7 convertible.  Over the next several days I noticed that next to the elevator bays on the other floors were identical plants in identical pots.  What was the likelihood that these were all being thrown away?  Probably zero I surmised–if you steal something without knowing you were stealing, is it really stealing (think Limewire)?

So, my first day on the job I unknowingly stole the company’s plants.  What would day two offer, a walnut credenza, brass lamps?  Gonna’ need a bigger car.

Do you know people like that on your project, those who portend to know everything that don’t?  Plant thieves.  Sometimes they masquerade as program managers, sometimes as vendors.  They hide what they don’t know behind a flurry of meetings, a full calendar, reams of emails.

It’s easier to spot the plant thieves than it is to stop them from adversely affecting your project.  It’s easy to observe, easier to complain about.  What to do about it?  Why are you asking me?  That’s why they pay you the big bucks.


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