3 Reasons Project Managers Are Like Jugglers

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Categories: Best Practices


By David Wakeman

I’ve got a hypothesis I want to drop on you: Being a project manager is a lot like being a juggler. 

Many of you may be scratching your heads, asking the question: “What is Dave thinking?” 

Hear me out. I’ve got three examples to support my hypothesis. 

1. Project managers, like jugglers, are required to keep a lot of balls in the air. You have to manage your team, communicate to your stakeholders, run changes and a whole host of other things. 

A great juggler, or a crazy one, might be juggling a chainsaw or a dozen balls. Although I never learned to be a good juggler, I do know that the key skill is focusing on one ball at a time.

The same can be said for a project manager. You may have 20 things on your to-do list, but you can’t do all 20 things at once. You can only do one thing at a time. 

This is important because if you’re trying to send an email to a stakeholder at the same time you’re having an in-person conversation with another stakeholder, you probably aren’t giving either of them your full attention. And you could miss the opportunity to make a point, get information or create change. 

Need I say what happens if you take your attention off a chainsaw? 

2. Project managers, like jugglers, are manipulators. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but instead in that they change people’s perceptions of what is happening in front of them. 

Yo-yo-ing is considered a form of juggling with tricks like “sleeping,” “looping” and “walking the dog.” All of these are ways to get the yo-yo to do what the juggler wants it to do. 

How is that different than what project managers do?

As a project manager, your job is to get your team to do what you need them to do to bring your projects in on time, on schedule and within scope. 

You achieve this by using the tools at your disposal to motivate, encourage and guide your stakeholders and team toward your goal. That’s juggling. 

3. It all comes down to results. Finally, a bad juggler gives a bad performance, and a good juggler gives a good performance … and no one knows whether they are just having a bad or good day. Ultimately, the same applies to projects and their leaders. In the end, we are judged on performance.

Did our project meet specifications? Did it come through on schedule? Were we able to get the results we needed out of our team?

For a juggler, if they aren’t entertaining, they are failing. Which I guess means that project managers actually have an easier job than jugglers because we don’t always have to entertain, but we do have to produce results. 

What do you think? Are project managers like jugglers—or have I gone crazy with this metaphor? Let me know below in the comments. 

 

Posted by David Wakeman on: May 21, 2019 10:18 AM | Permalink

Comments (12)

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Nice analogy David

Interesting analogy, true like a juggle many balls are at play simultaneously.

Hi David,

I’ve used Juggling in my practice for team building and stress distraction. I also see metaphorical overlap between the disciplines, for instance; a juggler understands, manages and executes patterns. This is also true of the project manager, we make our living through process patterns that must be understood, managed and executed.

In addition, a juggler knows where the objects are at all times, but if you look at their eyes they are normally looking straight forward and having a conversation with you. They know when a problem is going to happen because they were the ones who set that problem (i.e., the object) in motion. A project manager also knows where their objects (i.e., tasks) are at all times, and seasoned ones have a sixth-sense on tasks that are going to be “hard to control” because again, they were the one who launched it into motion to begin with.

Great analogies!

Nice discussion, thanks for sharing

Very Interesting and Helpful post. I like it . Thanks for sharing it. Well said David...

In the problematic areas PMs are as a magician.

But I think David you have to get some rest and relax :)

Great metaphor. I have used the juggler analogy myself from time to time. Your levity is appreciated.

Made me smile - true!

Excellent analogy... Thanks for sharing!

Dame, i want to aggree, but i don't want to do that!
I believe, that in good team, with everyone perfect work it looks like other way.
But for big part of projects - yeah, it's true.

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