The Purple Squirrel Pursuit of Project Management

Everyone reading this has seen purple squirrels, right? What do you mean “No, they don’t exist”? They must, because organizations and individuals are continually asking for them.


In the recruiting world, “purple squirrel” is slang for someone who meets every requirement within a job posting, regardless of how ludicrous or varied it is. “We are looking for a senior developer who has a doctorate in philosophy, is a practicing CPA, speaks fluent ancient Greek, has 20 years of experience, and is willing to work for minimum wage“. The chances of finding this individual? Not likely. Either the requirements need to be adjusted in order to fit reality, or a “less than ideal” candidate must be selected.

This concept of purple squirrels can be extended to project management as well. As I mentioned in a prior blog post, one of the major goals in project management is to gather as many requirements as possible. However, it must be understood that you will not necessarily be able gather every single one. At some point, the project stakeholder is going to say “I just thought of this….” or “would it be possible to also…”. These are a certainty: it will happen. Striving to gather every requirement could lead you to inaction and you will never actually get to develop.

The goal is not to be trapped in an analysis/paralysis loop. At some point, you must decide to begin actually working and developing the end product, rather than striving for those missing requirements. After all, some of these requirements may not appear until after a working prototype or deliverable has been created. Failure to “move on and create” could blow your timeline, exceed your budget, or irritate your customer who is looking to get the ball rolling. The worst case scenario is of course all three.

How do you mitigate this? It’s simple: constant communication. Sending frequent updates to a customer can let them know where in the process you are. As previously stated, gather as many requirements as possible, and then review them. Once those are locked down, begin creating the final project. Change is inevitable, just as death and taxes are. The goal: to manage the change and keep the chaos as bay.

Every customer and project is different, and with experience you will get a feeling for when a project is complete, or at least ready to move onto the next phase. The caveat is of course not to go hunting for those purple squirrels. They don’t typically stay around for very long, and are always moving to add a new specialized skill to their resume.

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