Herding Cats and Other Animalian Project Management Analogies

Managing an internet marketing project can often feel like standing in the middle of a zoo when the monkeys finally make a break for it. Overdramatic? Perhaps, but the point remains – it’s hectic. At Portent, we have a team-based approach, which means multiple parties and timelines are in play, simultaneously. If not watched with a keen eye, things can get messy, fast. Getting everyone to move in the same direction, at the same speed and with the same goals in mind, really does feel a bit like herding cats at times.

In order to manage internet marketing projects well, a project manager often has to channel the ways of our furry and feathered friends. Here are just a few I try to use in my daily routine:

Communicate Like an Elephant


“My, what big ears you have. The better to listen to you my dear.” Image courtesy of anniekatec.blogspot.com

Let’s take a cue from our elephant friends. Not only are they excellent listeners, they send each other clear, succinct signals when action must be taken. Imagine if elephants wasted time on details. “So, there are these humans hanging around in the bushes. I wonder what they want? Anyway, I just thought I’d let you know. Hey, wanna meet for lunch by the watering hole on Friday?”

They get to the point because they have to. “Crazy humans with big pointy things! RUN!”

As a project manager, I should:

  • Keep it short and to the point (bullets are super helpful, as I’m demonstrating here)
  • Ask questions up front. If I make someone read through an entire email before they finally find my request at the bottom, I’ll not only annoy them, I’ll be wasting their time. In project management, there’s no greater sin than wasting others’ time.

Keep Watch Like a Hawk

A hawk’s vision is equivalent to 20/5. This means that what most people can see at 5 feet, the hawk can see with the same clarity, from 20 feet away.


Nothing escapes this guy’s watchful gaze. Image courtesy of bradwilke via Flickr

What does this mean in project management?

  • Attentiveness. Pay attention. To everything. All. The. Time.
  • Foresight. Recognize upcoming search trends, and take action before the volume reaches its peak
  • Be a surveyor. Know exactly what each person on the project is doing. When they’re doing it. And when they’re delivering.

The hawk is a predator. That’s no secret. I don’t intend to create a perfect analogy here, because let’s face it, if I walked into meetings with talons on full display, ready to claw my co-workers into submission, I wouldn’t gain a whole lot of allies. Instead, I try to think of project management as a leadership position in the forest that is internet marketing. I survey the forest floor for opportunities and potential blockades. Then, I use my vantage point to address them with the same authority our feathered hunters project.

Commit Like a Penguin

Ever see March of the Penguins? If you have, you know where I’m going with this. If not, I’ll get you up to speed.

Emperor Penguins literally work as a team to look after their incubating egg. Once the female lays the egg, using her feet she carefully transfers it to the male, who in turn keeps it warm by holding it tucked between his belly and the tops of his feet. The lady penguin then takes off for two months to feed. When she returns, the egg has likely hatched and the male penguin returns the baby to the mother’s care.

Why does this matter? Here’s the deal: marketing projects won’t work unless everyone involved is fully committed and shares an equitable role in ensuring a successful outcome.


We’re in this together! Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As a project manager, I should be:

  • Fully briefing my internal teams on the client’s goals, and checking in frequently to see that our deliverables are meeting those goals.
  • Building consensus and buy-in. If the team doesn’t agree that an infographic is the way to go, the quality of our deliverable will suffer. And the project’s progress will slow to a crawl.
  • Delegating. A project isn’t just my baby. It’s everyone’s baby. Sharing responsibilities leads to a well executed strategy, or in our analogy, a healthy little Antarctic waddle-bird.

There are no deadbeat dads in the world of Emperor Penguins. Don’t be your web project’s equivalent.

Got any other animalian analogies? Comment below with your suggestions!

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