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Project Resources: Who Moved Your Cheese?

You may have read the book ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ – strange title aside it was one of the biggest sellers of the last century. A guide to competing in the rat race, it has a strange relevance for those leading or sponsoring ambitious projects and initiatives.  

The Competition for Scarce Resources

‘Who Moved My Cheese’ was written at a time of corporate downsizing and restructuring, when some were prospering enormously and others seemed to be losing it all.1

The book delivered the popular Regan – Thatcher era message of personal responsibility and empowerment: ‘Yes it is a rat race, but (if you want to get ahead) there is no point complaining that somebody has moved or has taken your cheese, following the cheese is your number one responsibility’.

‘Old entitlements are no longer relevant – it is all up for grabs! You must apply your full talent and resourcefulness to the task, acquiring any new information or skills that you need along the way.’

Expect the cheese to keep moving. Expect others to want your cheese.

Get ready to move with the cheese.

Nobody wants old cheese!!

It is just business, the business comes first.

Who Gets the Cheese?

To follow the metaphor, the cheese is resources – money and manpower. But, of course, it is in scarce supply.

Most of the cheese has already been allocated and there are lots of projects and initiatives competing for the rest. 

Departments and projects hoard their cheese, they spend a lot of effort defending what they have got. Only rarely will people hand back cheese they don’t need – they may need it later.

There is never enough surplus cheese to go around and spreading it too thinly could mean everybody goes hungry. So, it is inevitable that there will be winners and losers.

As the mouse you can help move the cheese (in your direction), or simply complain about the fact that it keeps moving.

Has your project/initiative got its fair share of the cheese?

Is anybody after your cheese? How will you protect it?

Will more cheese be needed? Where will it come from?

Who controls access to more cheese?

What talent or skill do you need to access more cheese?

How will you successfully navigate the bureaucratic maze to access more of the cheese?

Can you be a more ‘political’ mouse?

  

Who Moves the Cheese?

The available cheese should go to the neediest or most deserving projects and initiatives. That is the theory, whatever about the reality.  

The job of senior management is to keep moving the cheese – to move it where it is needed most. The process by which this happens is the planning and budgeting cycle – it is how strategy is executed.

Strategy is the art and science of resource allocation (aka cheese). It is the (hopefully) considered decision-making process about where to move the cheese, based on where the greatest reward is likely to be. 

Strategic Cheese Allocation

In theory the allocation of the cheese should reflect the strategic choices made by the business. That is decisions to invest in some areas (i.e. those projects and initiatives that will bring the strategy to life and realize the vision) and not in others. 

However, such logical decisions can be swayed by a range of other factors such as politics, legacy commitments and pet projects. So, to get ‘the cheese’ projects must show that they can further the strategy.

This is the mistake that many make – they struggle to look beyond their project or initiative to the strategy from which it is born (we call this Project Myopia).

Is your organization’s cheese being put to the best use?

Does the cheese follow the strategy reflect strategic priorities?

Does the cheese always good where it is most needed?

Getting Access to Resources

As the leader of a Project or Team you are ‘the lead mouse’ and securing access to the cheese is one of your key jobs.

There are ‘crafty’ mice who seem to get access to the cheese more readily than others. They are political animals and while others would prefer to do the work they are happy to ‘play the game’. But there is no point complaining. You must apply all your smarts to navigate through the bureaucratic maze to get the cheese. You must prove that your project or initiative is worthy. 

Getting access to the cheese requires engaging the ‘Big Cheese’ – that is C suite executives – in a compelling vision of project success. 

Even soft cheese requires the hard logic of the business case communicated in a clear and compelling manner.  

Indeed, the ability of an organization to move the cheese is a reflection of its agility – that is its ability scrap those projects not working and reinvest elsewhere.  Here is where the cheese metaphor runs out of road, moving the cheese requires connecting your project or team to success, building a compelling business case and engaging decision makers and stakeholders. 

  1. Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese?: An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, G.P. Putnam’s Sons;1998. []

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