Friday, March 30, 2012

How to pick your pigs right

A Pig and a Chicken are walking down the road. The Chicken says, "Hey Pig, I was thinking we should open a restaurant!". Pig replies, "Hm, maybe, what would we call it?". The Chicken responds, "How about 'ham-n-eggs'?". The Pig thinks for a moment and says, "No thanks. I'd be committed, but you'd only be involved!"
The text itself was taken from the Wikipedia article "The Chicken and the Pig". And this fable illustrates the difference between commitment and involvement. In regard to Project Management, some of your stakeholders are committed to the project and some are just involved. Are you lucky enough to have the right combination?


Who do you want committed?
The first pig you want must be your sponsor. Good sponsors are hard to find and it gets worse if they're not committed. Just imagine what's like to have a project where you can't escalate an issue that you have no power over... That would make you take every role in the organization up to CEO, do you think you can do it?
Each member of your team should be a pig too. Being a pig plays a major role on motivation and putting that extra mile when needed. If a team member isn't committed, why should he/she bother?
Your client should also be a pig: if your client doesn't need your project done, odds are you won't get it done at all. And this kind of thing happens for real.
And according to your particular context you can have all sorts of different stakeholders that should be pigs: it could even be a supplier. the rule I use is simple: you should have a pig whenever you have a stakeholder that can benefit your project.

And involved?
You want those stakeholders that can harm your project as far away as possible and if you can keep them from even being involved please do. So those are not the chickens you're looking for. But a word of warning: check real good if that's the case, the last thing you want is to push away someone that you need later on your side to get the project done. In fact Michael Greer has a very good post on the topic here, "There's no such thing as my project".
The ones you want involved in your project is everyone else really, but at the very least those that somehow will benefit from it. So on the pigs side you have those that can benefit your project and on the chicken side those that will benefit from it.
Nice and clean, isn't it? Actually no, this borderline is nice to guide you on this but don't follow it blindly. One of the best allies you can have in life is someone who opposes you for some reason and you prove them wrong: that being on your side is the best thing for them. That's why economic ties are so hard to break and a nice example of it (although outside the scope of Project Management) is how all European Union countries are helping out Greece for some time now.

What can you do?
So what can you do to make sure you have all the pigs and chickens you want? Well, the first thing to do is to recognize which stakeholder is a pig and who is a chicken - and that is not a straight forward process. Then you should check if the chickens you have should really be chickens and the pigs should be pigs. Then get the misplaced ones and try to make them change role.
But sometimes there's not much you can do. In fact, sometimes there's nothing you can do except recognize that you have a potential problem at hand - in which case you'll know at least where the issues will be coming from.
But there will also be times where you can take action. Depending on the situation at hand, check if any of these make sense:
  • Talk to the misplaced chicken or pig and discuss this problem
  • Make sure your sponsor knows of the problem
  • Show the chicken that should be a pig the benefits for her, try to turn her into a pig
  • Keep the pig that should be a chicken as busy as possible: the busier they are the less they'll interfere
  • Involve the chickens, ask their opinion, make them participate and make them feel useful
And if you can take action, please do! Also, any additional thoughts in this particular topic are most welcome!

In the end
What this fable about chickens and pigs gives you is a way to lookout for problems and sometimes correct them. But even though one of the reasons for failure in Project Management is lack of upper management support (aka sponsorship) the task isn't easy and sometimes there's really nothing you can do. But at least you'll know why it didn't work out. On the other hand, it also happens that you can solve the problem and turn the chicken into a pig or whatever. Or eventually turn someone who's not interested in your project succeeding into a strong ally. And that feels really good!

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