Project Practitioners > Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

By Kent McDonald

You can't make this stuff up. On my way home from work this evening my wife called me on my cell phone. I dutifully pulled over to the side of road to have my cell phone conversation. This, by the way is stuff you can make up. "Do you know why we would have cows walking on our driveway?" She asked. For those of you who live in midtown Manhattan (New York, not Kansas) this would seem like an extremely odd question. For me, it was just another day in the paradise I call rural Iowa.

"No" I said "I like my steaks fresh, but not quite that fresh." I didn't really say that. I'm not nearly that clever on the spur of the moment. I most likely said something along the lines of “Hmm, that's weird”.

When I got home, sure enough, there were five cows casually mulling about in the grass along my gravel driveway curiously looking at me as I undid the gate at the bottom of my driveway and drove my RAV 4 through. They seemed mildly put out that a compact sport utility vehicle was driving through their newly found feeding grounds with the very tempting bales of hay sitting in it. Failing to mention that they were the ones actually trespassing on my grass, I drove up to the house, stopping to close the gate at the top of the driveway and began calling my neighbors.

Have you ever started a conversation with “Hi it's your neighbor down the road. How are you this evening? Say, do you happen to have cows with gold ear tags?” Probably not one of the top ten ice breaker lines at a party, but a sure way to get an instant reaction. Unless of course you are talking to an answering machine, which was the case for at least half my calls. If you think that line is a little odd for starting a conversation, you should try leaving it as a message.

Finally, I found the owner of the cattle, Larry, who responded to my opening question with something that is probably best not repeated here. A few minutes later when he and a few others came down to pick up the cattle... actually “pick up” is a misnomer. They actually encouraged the cattle to saunter up the gravel road to a different pasture by closely following them in a pick up truck and walking along side them so they didn't get a wild hair and explore one of the roadside ditches.

As he was watching the Madison County traffic jam that his cattle were creating Larry commented that he had the cattle in my neighbor John's pasture across the street, who by the way does not own any animals of his own to my knowledge. Apparently the cows had gotten into that pasture a couple of days ago because John had not been keeping his fence up , which is apparently the same way the cows got out and went to McDonald's for dinner. Larry grumbled about how he couldn't believe that John wouldn't keep his fence repaired. I mentioned perhaps that fixing fence isn't that big of a priority for someone who didn't have anything he wanted to keep in. Larry grumbled and said something about putting the cattle back there because it was too far to get the cattle back to his property tonight as he walked up the hill.

I share this story partly because it is one of those things you just can't keep to yourself, but also because it is a great example of the impact of vested interest. In this situation, Larry had a great deal more vested interest than John to make sure that the fence between their properties was kept up. Therefore if you had a fence building project and were trying to figure out who should be the product owner of said project, Larry would be the obvious choice because he has the most to gain from a properly maintained fence, and the most to lose (in the form of five Angus cattle) as a result of a poorly maintained fence. Expecting someone else to be as interested in the outcome of a project when they don't have nearly as much to lose, or gain, is only setting you up for disappointment. I had some vested interest in this situation, I certainly didn't want the cattle to hang around and mooch (the selection of that word was purely intentional by the way) but I could have turned the cattle back out onto the road anytime I wanted and be none the worse for well. To extend the project metaphor, I was an interested stakeholder, but certainly not the product owner of the fence building project. Last time I checked, my fence is in pretty decent shape.

As for the cows, I leave that up to you to decide what project role they were playing...

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

This is a powerful metaphor. "Mind your cows". Thanks for the tip!

What a great story! I think I'll borrow it when wrangling with departments over who owns a process...humor often gets our teams past stalemates.

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