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  • Writer's pictureNathalie C. Chan King Choy

Project Managers should spend less time “herding cats”. How to do that.

A shepherd dog behind a herd of cats crossing a bridge

Don't get lost in the details


Early in my career, to demonstrate proficiency in Project Management, I thought I had to spend 8/10/12hrs per day attending every meeting, tracking, rolling up status, and following up (herding the cats).  


Putting in hard work to keep up with all the details will only get you so far.  To stand out, you must understand what those details are telling you, share your insights, and drive positive change.


How to start


The first step is to carve out time to think.  Your brain is in a completely different state when you’re in cat herding mode, focused on the tasks and details and splitting short bursts of attention across a flurry of email, chat, cubicle visits, and task-tracker follow ups.  To get time to think, you should empower your team to do more on their own and feel more accountability for their project.  


  • What meetings could the team leads run?  They’re “leads”, get out of the way and let them flex their leadership muscles!

  • Are there meetings where your only role is scribe & action item tracker?  If your work doesn’t involve heavy technical jargon, could Zoom/MS Teams transcription + a company-approved AI tool provide the meeting summary & action items to free you up?

  • I’m assuming your company has a tool used for task tracking (e.g. Jira, Asana, Monday.com, etc.).  Are you and your team using it in a skillful way?  If not, invest time to up-skill so that you can make the most of its capabilities, then roll that into your project processes.  

  • Can you create dashboards in your task tracker that automatically highlight what’s on each person’s plate & past due?  Dashboards/widgets for each owner help them stay on top of their workload, and a “who owns what’s past due” dashboard for management motivates task owners to keep their items up-to-date & improve their effort estimation skills.

  • Can you create templates for individuals to populate that make it easier to roll-up status?  If you use Confluence, the Page Properties Report macro will even automate the roll-up for you!

  • Have you asked your team for their suggestions on how to streamline their workflows?  


Sacred time


Once you free up a few hours per day, guard this time as your most precious resource!  Block it in your calendar and go into Do Not Disturb mode if you must.  If you have a door, close it.  If you have earplugs/headphones, use them.  The MS Outlook desktop app has a “Work Offline” button that I love - I can access my trove of old messages and compose new messages without the distraction of every new item that arrives.


Do the deep work


Use this time for “deep work”, where you have to hold different pieces of information in your brain together, and turn them over like puzzle pieces, to produce something valuable.  


Think about the information you’ve been absorbing amidst the chaos & how it’s connected.  Are there risks brewing?  Are there inefficiencies that need some high-level interactions to address?  Is there low-hanging fruit that everyone is too busy to see, but only takes minor resource redistribution to get some easy wins?


This is also a good time to work on more complex presentations, especially for executives, where nailing the messaging is crucial.  How should you order the content & what visuals would be impactful to weave a concise but compelling story?


Conclusion


Helping your team to work more effectively + providing convincing insights to higher level decision-makers allows you to deliver value far beyond cat herding.  It takes some effort and creativity to carve out the time for yourself, but it makes the job incredibly rewarding!

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