“Balls!” Project Management lessons from zookeepers.

smiley11War. Death. Terror. Ebola…

…it’s fair to say that much of the news lately has been pretty grim (nothing new there!), so you can imagine my relief when I stumbled across a story that bore the headline ‘Zoo abandons hyena breeding programme after realizing they have spent four years trying to get two males to mate.’

Not the snappiest headline, sure, but it did grab my attention.

The story is pretty much summed up in the headline –Japanese zookeepers have abandoned their four year long attempt to persuade two spotted hyenas to mate, after they realised that both animals were male. Apparently, it’s quite difficult to tell the sex of a hyena – a claim which I don’t dispute!

Yes, it’s a light-hearted story and its relevance to us as project managers might seem tenuous at best, but it was after I rolled my eyes at the stupidity of the zookeepers that I realised that we do things just as stupid as this in our projects all of the time!

You see, those zookeepers neglected the basics and it cost them – four years of their time and some humiliating national press. Checking the gender of the hyenas – so simple, but in this case, it would have had a huge impact on the last four years!
It’s something that we’ve all done, though. Whilst we’re mesmerised searching for the all-singing, all-dancing solution, focused on doing the things that are the most complicated (because we think that these bring the greatest results!), we often neglect to do the simple things.

One very real example relates to a major banking system that was struggling to meet its overnight processing timescales. The techies were looking at all sorts of innovative programming techniques to speed things up (with all the inherent risks those sorts of techniques bring to stability etc!!). Then somebody asked, do we need to do things in that order and all by the same time? A few simple questions to the business and the processing was re-ordered to deliver what the business had to have at the start of day and the rest was delivered a little later with no impact to the business or customer service.

Get back to basics

It’s the simple things done well, like remembering to ask basic questions such as “why are we doing this”, that give the greatest results. I know that whenever I go back to basics with a problem and get all the relevant parties on a call or round a table, the results have been amazing.

Yet so many project managers forget the basics.

So, I encourage you to keep these two hyena’s in mind this week, look at where there is pressure in your project and go back to basics – it could see you laughing all the way to delivery.

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2 comments on ““Balls!” Project Management lessons from zookeepers.
  1. peter says:

    Hilarious and equally disappointing in that it took that long to know they are off the track.A minute examination on both hyenas could have sorted out the mess.

  2. Dave Gordon says:

    “Boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.” — Joseph (Miko Hughes), “Kindergarten Cop”

    Plainly, the Japanese zoo needs to hire a few six year old kids.

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