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Cornerstone: Managing people to embrace projects

A topic that comes up quite a bit during the fire-officer courses I facilitate is the challenge of getting people to embrace programs that need to be implemented, therefore ensuring that the department meets the needs and expectations of the community.

February 7, 2017
By Lyle Quan


On this topic, I have chosen two books to explore: Move Your Bus by Ron Clark (2015) and Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager by Kogon, Blakemore and Wood (2015).

Move Your Bus offers readers a common-sense way to look at those who make up the department. Clark notes that there are several types of performers within every organization: runners, joggers, walkers, riders and drivers. The runners are top performers, the people who really lend their muscle to moving the bus. Joggers are conscientious workers who do a good job but are not at the same level as runners. Walkers contribute less forward momentum than the others, and riders are essentially dead weight. Finally, the drivers are the people who steer the organization. In many organizations, managers spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with riders instead of using that time more productively working with the runners and joggers. This is not to say that you should not work with the lesser performers, but first you need to identify those lesser performers and determine whether they have a desire to become joggers or runners and, if so, what it will take for them to reach that level. If that desire is absent, then what tasks or positions can riders be assigned that will meet their levels of ability and desire, while also meeting the needs of the organization?

Before you try to put the riders into a position within the organization or project, you need to listen to them to determine whether they have the potential to become runners, aspire to be runners, or if they are simply telling you what they think you want to hear. Identifying the strengths of your people helps you determine how they will best fit into the vision of the organization or a given project.

Once you have identified your peoples’ strengths, how do you get them excited about project? First, you must exude a sense of urgency: if others feel a need to get things done, they will get them done.


Finally, as is the case with any good book on leadership, Clark notes that you need to be aware of, and practice the following:  don’t spread the negative; don’t make excuses; don’t let drama on you personal bus affect your work bus; don’t assume you’re awesome; and don’t just be good, be efficient

At one point, Clark compares his bus analogy to that of the old Flintstones cartoon in which Fred and Barney used their feet and muscle power to make the vehicle move. Does your department have the muscle power to move the bus forward?

Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager is a book for those who have not taken project-management courses but want to make sure they are keeping the project on target. One of the things I found interesting is its formula for success, which is People + Process = Success (chapter 2). From the authors’ point of view, there are four parts to the people aspect, which also make up part of the overall project management process. They are: demonstrate respect; listen first; clarify expectations; and practice accountability.

As noted on page 8, “Project management is no longer just about managing a process. It’s also about leading people. Which is a significant paradigm shift. It’s about tapping into the potential of people on the team, then engaging with and inspiring them to offer their best to the project.”

The authors bring readers through their five-step process of project management: initiating the project; planning the project; executing the project; monitoring and controlling the project; closing the project

Another good point on project management is that we need to learn from mistakes. Projects fail because of lack of commitment/support, unrealistic timelines, too many competing priorities, unclear expectations, unrealistic resources, people pulled away from the project, politics, lack of a big picture for the team, poor planning, lack of leadership, changing standards, and lack of or mismanaged budget.

The constant in both books is that by understanding the strengths of your people and building on those strengths, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished.

Together, the books help to identify and understand the types of performers you have in your department, and how to best utilize them to manage projects.

Lyle Quan is the retired fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. He presently facilitates fire-officer programs at the Ontario Fire College and is an instructor for the bachelor of business in emergency services program for Lakeland College. Contact Lyle at and follow him on Twitter at @LyleQuan

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