Tales of a Cat Wrangler

 A Frank and Personal Look into My Foray Into Project Management

Sometimes, people see more in you than you see in yourself. And, when fighting low self-esteem is a constant battle as it is for me, what someone with low self-esteem sees in oneself is almost always going to be less than what we’re really capable of, as my husband on occasion reminds me.

Recently I was asked to take on a slightly different role with the digital marketing agency I’m on contract with, in part because my “boss” was working full time and in part, I presume, because he saw I had the “chops” to do it. I was asked to become sort of a project manager/team lead to finish off a website for a mortgage broker. This involved co-ordinating the work of others as well editing and writing content, and sourcing free photos.

Putting on the big girl panties while at the same time, leaning in and feeling my apprehension at the prospect of this new role, I accepted the challenge. Typically, I’m more comfortable as a follower, not a leader. (It was also comforting to know my “boss” was always a phone call or text away.)

Naturally, there have been a few hiccups along the way, including the challenges of working with an international team, issues with the site itself, my lack of experience as a leader and knowledge on how much direction/guidance/communication/ to give.

My boss reminded me of the importance of:

  • to be available on a daily basis,
  • monitor the project daily, and
  • communicate, communicate, communicate

As a writer you’d think I’d know this last one but it wasn’t instinctive. One can’t just parachute in and give the directions, and then take a hands off approach thereafter. In my defence, I felt like if I prompted too much by checking in with the team as to how their various tasks were proceeding, I was hounding them. (We are all adults here.) However, I underestimated the value of being present for my team. Interestingly enough, the more I communicated and was present for them, the more was accomplished.

Project management quickly felt to me like herding cats. Check out this hilarious video produced by The Fallon Agency for computer giant EDS on herding cats:

Micheal Hyatt, in his article Project Management and Herding Cats makes the connection between project management and cat-herding:

  • Cats are solitary animals. They aren’t naturally part of a herd. People can be like that too (including myself). As leaders, mentioning the benefits of collaboration and getting more done collectively as a team is required. Otherwise, according to Hyatt, people are “lone rangers” and projects can start to unravel.
  • Cats are seemingly aloof. People can appear to be so as well. Leaders are needed to drive engagement about the project and get people on the team to buy in, and connect emotionally with the project.
  • Cats are easily distracted. Unfortunately so am I, especially since I work from home! (Possibly not the most stellar quality in a leader.) There are plenty of distractions everywhere for everyone. Leaders need the ability to keep others on their team focussed and on-task. (Oh look… squirrel.)

Hyatt emphasizes the importance of  leaders becoming who they need to be to their team, in order to model the behaviour to their team. If I’m distracted, and aloof (and, in taking more of a hands-off approach, this may have been the perception), I can, according to Hyatt, foster a culture of distraction and a lack of personal engagement to the project from the team.

In any event, the end is nigh. The website’s almost done and my role will likely then transition to providing content writing and social media on an ongoing basis for the site.

I’ve gained valuable experience in a short amount of time and learned a lot along the way, and I am exceedingly grateful for the opportunity, but I’m still not certain I’m a cat wrangler!