The Best Breed of Project Managers: How to make the most of your feline or canine features when managing a project
By: Fabiano Cid (Managing Director) - Ccaps Translation and Localization
08 March 2008
Zoomorphism is the representation of gods as animals or the attribution of animal characteristics to a god. In our industry, localization project managers can be seen as both: gods and animals.
PMs are gods because they are omnipresent, (participating in every step of the process), omnipotent (any decision can turn a project into success or disaster), and omniscient in their full awareness of how things are being carried out. Or they can be animals -- in a good or bad way. This article will focus on the latter idea and will divide project managers in two very specific species.
Whether it is due to personal characteristics, cultural differences or corporate policies, the fact is that PMs always take on animal features. In fact, a single localization company could be a complete Noah’s Ark, with stealthy snakes, skittish chickens, greedy sharks, industrious ants or festive cicadas. To restrict the length of this piece and because this is not an essay on zoology, let us stick to the two animals that we know best: cats and dogs.
Feline and Canine PMs
Some may think of cats as smart and superior beings, while others consider them self-centered and unreliable. The same occurs with dogs: they may look stupid and subservient to cat lovers, but cynophiles consider them loyal, sociable and dependable. Project managers can also have either characteristic when performing their daily work. The trick is to balance your feline and canine qualities to make sure the most important goal is achieved: client satisfaction and retention.
Most project managers I know or have worked with fall into one of the categories above. Canine PMs do most everything to please their customers who they consider to be their best (professional) friends. They will respond immediately to any request, wagging their tails and raising their ears most attentively to learn how they can help. Meanwhile, feline PMs usually maintain a safe distance because they do not like their privacy to be disturbed. They will hardly please or obey their customers without getting something else in return, and when displeased with something, they will make it very clear by showing their long, pointed claws and razor-sharp teeth.
For the sake of comparison, a canine PM would be the one that goes that extra mile to make sure the client is fully satisfied. They work extra hours (and usually do not charge for the hours), are always ready to find the best solution, no matter how weird and complicated the client’s request, and think it is enough to receive a brief compliment for their hard work. On the other hand, catlike project managers are those who would never work overnight to deliver a project, will hardly use anything more intimate than “Best Regards” in their email messages and know very well how much it costs to deal with complex demands not included in the previously agreed scope of work. Believe me, not only do they know the price but they will charge you for it, one or way or another.
Doggy PMs are those who look relentlessly for the treasure hidden by the client (who cannot remember where it is), and could not be more pleased with the little bone that is occasionally thrown to them. Dogs can show their teeth and bark at other people, but hardly at their own owners. Yet, if your dog for some reason growls and bites you in a moment of rage, it will soon turn to a repented puppy with the tail between its legs and licking you all over the face in an attempt to regain your love and trust. In the case of PMs, the barking, growling and eventual biting of the hand that feeds them sometimes expose a veiled disappointment for lack of caring, the painful feeling of being taken advantage of, or the weariness of not being properly rewarded. But it is often followed by deep regret, utter shame and a desperate attempt to recover the life-long and undeniable partnership.
Then there are the cats who have their own way of announcing that an attack is on its way. If you know they are reserved animals that can jump out of your lap without advance notice (leaving a scratch mark on your thighs), would you not be prepared for that? The same applies to cat PMs: Once they make it clear that they have a strictly business relationship and will not come running to the client whenever he or she whistles, a tacit agreement has been established, and there is little room for doubt. As a client, you may not be prepared to deal with this behavior and may prefer a friendlier approach, but then you should review the relationship or look for a more compatible counterpart.
According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), offering a client more than he or she requests is not a good practice. PMs therefore should stick to the approved scope of work and deliver exactly what was requested or agreed upon between the parties. After all, this could at the very least mean extra hours of work that will not be compensated. At the end of the project, you could find yourself running out of budget, exhausted with continuous late shifts or disappointed at not having your effort properly recognized. Then you can bark as much as you want because the situation will not change. You could even end up being reprehended by your boss because your project is no longer profitable. Unfortunately, using those sad eyes of an abandoned mongrel will not reverse the situation.
But are all clients the same? Do they always expect you to follow the PMBoK, regardless of the circumstances of the project and the relationship they expect to establish with you? If that is the case and every company is only interested in employees who can clearly define the boundaries of the relationship with the customer, then feline Project Managers obviously offer an advantage. You will never see a cat PM sweat from trying to meet an impossible deadline. Their elegance, self-esteem and aloofness prevent them from doing those extra tasks at the last minute of their business day. Yet beware of those claws as the mere request to “scratch your back” with these professionals can mean a much more painful favor than you could ever imagine.
Yes, business relationships have a rather mixed nature and sometimes going that extra mile does pay off. A favor today can turn into a steady commitment tomorrow. Despite the risk of slightly contradicting my zoomorphism theory, we must remember that clients are humans, and so are PMs. Just like in a marriage, one has to always care about their companion, otherwise the “ship” part of the “relation” will sink. Sacrifice, flexibility, adjustment and compromise are to be practiced and kept alive throughout the duration of the relationship. Intolerance, inability to adapt and unwillingness to negotiate will jeopardize or ultimately put an end to what could otherwise be a lifelong association.
Cats and dogs can live together in harmony. Likewise, project managers can balance dog and cat qualities without changing their persona, denying their cultural roots or violating corporate guidelines. The most important thing is to understand what behavior your client prefers, conduct yourself appropriately and get rid of the negative aspects of each animal inside of you. Then you can consider yourself “the best of breed.”