The Superglue – One Approach to Project Management

One of the most interesting jobs I had was when I worked at a busy coffee shop in midtown Atlanta. My coworkers were a diverse cast of characters from all kinds of backgrounds, and our customers were an often amusing mix of discerning coffee snobs and folks who just needed their morning cup of joe. Each morning when I came into work, I was given a different position to play. Some days I’d be the cashier – keying in transactions and filling pastry and drip brew orders, other times I’d be the barista – creating all of the fancy espresso-based beverages. But my favorite team role was a position called the Superglue.

The Superglue was so named because it was the position that, quite literally, held it all together. If the cashier was out of change, the Superglue would go get it. If the barista was low on 2% milk, the Superglue would refresh the supply, so the barista could keep serving up the espresso. If the line got especially long, the Superglue would first get the queue formed in an orderly fashion, then start pre-filling orders so customers wouldn’t be too delayed. If there was a lull in the action, the Superglue would do a quick interim cleaning of the work area to make sure the back of the house remained presentable. Unlike the cashier or the barista, the Superglue wasn’t assigned any one specific task, but assisted with all of them. I guess you could say that the Superglue’s one task was to make sure that all the other tasks were performed as efficiently as possible with maximum support to the team and minimal displeasure to the customer. I didn’t know it then, but by ‘playing Superglue’, I was getting my first taste of project management.

As a project manager you don’t really do any one thing, but you must be reasonably skilled at or have a deep understanding of everything that all the other players on the team do. You also have to possess a certain empathy for the customer, being able to see through their eyes and respond to their needs no matter how sophisticated or simple those needs may be. Like the Superglue, a good project manager is an enabler that has the ability to support a diverse set of personalities, and respond to ever-changing needs while making sure that the quality of the process isn’t compromised.

And like the Superglue, you usually end up consuming a lot of coffee when no one’s looking.

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