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What American Westerns Can Teach Us About Being Project Mangers

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What American Westerns Can Teach Us About Being Great Project Managers

Cowboys always seem to be looking to the future and assessing risk. They’re usually in pursuit of something big and on the lookout for unexpected adversaries. Doesn’t every western have someone saying, “There’s a storm a coming” or, “It’s quiet, too quiet”?  So I put the theory to test and looked up some famous cowboy quotes to see how they apply to wise project management practices. See for yourself.


“If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.” — Will Rogers

You’d think this would be obvious in Big Project Country but not so much. Nine out of 10 city slickers would say that project momentum is a good thing and leave it at that. But what about the project that’s speeding in the wrong direction like a runaway stage coach? That’s when you want a PM who knows how to stop the action before it all goes over the cliff.  So just like Will Rogers says, the savvy project manager knows when to stop digging. Then, it’s time to look around, reassess and come up with the next best plan.

“Young fella, if you’re looking for trouble I’ll accommodate ya.” – True Grit

Even cowboys knew to be careful about what they wished for. The same is true in project management. If you ride into a project with a pit in your gut, expecting everything to go wrong, it will. Now you’re just bracing yourself for the worst and infecting your team with doubt and fear. The best antidote is to have a plan that accounts for every scenario possible; realistic deliverable dates and a team that trusts the plan so everyone can work together with a positive end-goal in mind.

“Well, there are some things a man just can’t run away from.” – Stagecoach

In project management territory, uncertainty is inherent. Change will happen. Don’t turn your back on it, or think you can gallop away from unwelcome intrusions. Instead, prepare yourself and your posse for all kinds of project uncertainty. Scan the landscape constantly and be ready for anything – you don’t want to step on any angry rattlesnakes.


“Talk low, talk slow, and don’t talk too much.” – John Wayne

Astute project managers assess the situation, listen to their team and think before they speak. In other words, if you’re managing a project, make sure what you say has meaning and can focus everyone on the right work so they can make the best of their time and skills. Good team players walk their talk and don’t promise what they can’t deliver.

“We’re gonna give you a fair trial, followed by a first class hanging.” – Silverado

People are pretty quick to judge a project that has committed planning crimes (going over budget, over time, or has come to a standoff and wasting good resources). It’s just so darn easy to see the mistakes afterwards. Now suppose you had a way to know ahead of time where you were going – like a map and a compass. That would be different right? It’s the same with project management: A well thought-out plan along with the right tools that will guide you through unknown territory. A project map will help you avoid ambushes or the angry posse looking for the feller who got his gang into the mess in the first place.

The End – Happy trails and happy projects.

What did we miss? Add your PM-Cowboy quote Comments.


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