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5 Old Proverbs That No Project Manager Should Ever Forget

Teacher Showing Don't Count Your Chickens Before They're HatchedI love listening to old proverbs and I always pay attention when I hear an old one. I have an uncle who can’t seem to string together three sentences without slipping in a tried and tested piece of wisdom so let’s see which ones could be easily applied to the project world.

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

If you find that something has gone wrong the easiest thing to do is to try and forget about, isn’t it? After all, this means that you no longer need to worry about trying to sort it out. The problem is that the longer a problem goes on without you sorting it out the more chance there is that it become worse. If you neglect to fix an aspect of your project which has gone awry then there is every chance that it just gets worse and ends up being more difficult to get it back on track.

A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush      

This proverb dates back centuries and if it has lasted to the present day then it is clear that it makes a lot of sense. I particularly like ye olde version from the 16th century which says “ A byrd in hand is worth ten flye at large”. If you have an asset which is already in your possession then is it worth risking losing it to go after something better? There are a number of ways of looking at this ancient proverb in a project light. For example, if you are close to achieving one target in your piece of work then why risk it by attempting to bite off more than you can chew and rushing in where angels fear to tread (hey, it’s raining proverbs in here)?

It Is No Use Crying Over Spilt Milk

Once something has happened and it has gone wrong then it is time to do something about it, rather than worrying about it. It can be a horrible sensation to realise that you have messed up on something but you aren’t going to make it any better by complaining about what has gone wrong or replaying it over and over again in your head. As long as you know what you did wrong and how to avoid it happening again in the future then you should look forward instead of backwards.

Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth

This is another great proverb which is as relevant to 21st century project managers as it was to broth cooks in centuries gone by. Of course, as with a lot of proverbs there is also an opposite one; in this case, Many Hands Make Light Work. The key for a project manager is in finding the right level of workforce to get the job done without having people milling around underemployed. This can be hard to do but it is worth spending the time in getting it right. Also, a kind of related proverb is Too Many Chiefs and Not Enough Indians. I guess this isn’t a very politically correct proverb anymore and maybe it should be “Too Many Chiefs and Not Enough Native Americans”. Anyway, as the project manager you need to be the decision maker and while delegating is a good thing you don’t want to end up with other people making contradictory decisions or confusing the issue of who is really in charge.

Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Are Hatched

This is another classic which I guess we all say in our lives a number of times without even really thinking about it all that much. It simply means that you can’t assume that all of the eggs you are keeping warm are all going to have healthy chicks hatch from them. When you design your project plan then you need to work out when one thing is going to finish and what comes after it, so it is kind of difficult to not count your chickens before they are hatched in this line of work. However, this is different from simply assuming something which you haven’t fully worked out. For instance, if you say that you will start work on your new piece of work because the next one is 90% complete and you have been tracking it then this is fine. However, if you have no idea what is happening and decide to plow on ahead anyway on the assumption that it is all ok then it could end in tears for you.

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