It is often said that an important skill for a project manager is the ability to herd cats, but what does that actually mean?  It is the essential ability to get your team and your stakeholders moving in the same direction to effectively reach your project goal. In other words, trying to control the uncontrollable. 

So what does that involve and what has it got to do with cats? 

  • Like cats, your team and stakeholders are independent. They have their own agendas, ideas and drivers that motivate them, as well as their own preferences and plans on how they are going to achieve them. As Project Manager, you need to be able to bring them together to focus and collaborate on the same clearly defined and understood goal, through strong communication.
  • Both must be enticed to move in the same direction.  With a cat that could be by offering a tasty treat.  With your team it will be by winning their hearts and minds to get them fully engaged, and promoting what’s in it for them; how they might benefit individually, how it helps them achieve their own goals, and how their actions impact the team, project and organisation goals.
  • Next you need to stop your team and stakeholders from being distracted, like a cat might be with a toy or ball of string.  In a busy project environment it’s easy for attention to be diverted.  Lead by example and stay focussed.  You must be able to quickly identify situations that could create “noise” and shut down anything that could side-track the team and divert their focus to activity that doesn’t add value or keep them moving toward the collective goal.
  • You need to be able to resolve cat-fights.  Where there is disagreement and conflict, you should have a process in place to get issues aired, discussed and resolved.  Facilitating healthy debate and discussion and avoiding disruptive fighting. 
  • Finally, and crucially, you should remember that people and cats respond to positive recognition, whether it’s scratching your cat’s ear or giving your team recognition for their efforts, providing that attention and affirmation is key to maintaining engagement and ensuring that your herd of cats arrive at their collective destination and you achieve your goal.