Whose Monkey is it Anyway?

If you work for me, or with me, you will be well versed in my love for a metaphor. Today for example, I pushed a 'welcome to the party' metaphor so far that, by the time I'd finished, the police had been called and people were outside sitting on the kerb feeling sorry for themselves.

One of my favourites stems from a Polish saying "Not my Circus; not my monkeys". I love this, not because I like a slopy-shouldered sentiment. Quite the opposite; because the phrase begs the obvious question: "Whose monkeys are they then?". My team will often find themselves grilled by me on monkey ownership. "Who has this monkey?", "Do we have track of all our monkeys?", "Do you each know which are your monkeys?".

Monkey ownership. Its a useful concept. One that organisations undergoing change, or that move at pace, or that have fluid structures often struggle with. I've worked in some organisations (usually German) that have monkey ownership down - clear structures, neat lines of responsibility, well-ordered, regularly audited. Everyone knows which are their monkeys and monkeys are clean, well behaved and well fed. 

If you work in one of those organisations this post is not for you - move along. Take your happy monkeys with you. 

This post is for the rest of us. Those of us who are overwhelmed by rampant monkeys, badly behaved monkeys, hungry monkeys and unexpected monkeys. This post is a not entirely comprehensive guide to figuring out whose monkey is it anyway...

So, it may be that you think you know which monkeys you have. You may have bought the monkey in the first place. You may be paying for the bananas, or the vet's bills. "I pay for it, ergo its my monkey" you may say. True, to a point. But then every CEO in every business would be overwhelmed with monkeys. So the question is really - who is responsible for this monkey.? If you pay for it, but don't know what it eats, and have never cleaned up it's poo its not completely your monkey.

You might think "Ah-ha! I am forever cleaning up monkey poo. This must be my monkey!". Possibly. Are you also feeding it? Training it? Taking it to the vet? If not, it's not your monkey either. 

Maybe you've just always had this monkey. You don't know where it came from, It was here when you got here. You feed it most of the time. You play with it. You've taught it a few tricks and trained it out of that annoying habit of throwing its poo at people. Is it your monkey? 

What if you brought the monkey here, and have since seen it around occasionally? Sometimes because people know you know the source of the monkeys they ask you questions about it and you answer them. You check in on the monkey every so often, and make sure it's cage is secure. Your monkey?

What about (parents will understand this one well) if you decide you want a small furry mammal, that climbs things and does tricks? You may go out and choose it and carry it lovingly home from the pet shop. Did you intend to get a monkey? Is that even a monkey you have? Do you know what it takes to keep a monkey? Will you clean it out, feed it and play with it? Businesses are fully of badly behaved monkeys without real owners, because someone really wanted a kitten.

Tricky huh? "Whose monkey is this anyway?" is a difficult question to answer because different people have different concepts of monkey ownership. Hell, they have different ideas of monkeys. Imagine sticking your hand up for a monkey, thinking you're getting this guy: 

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And the monkey delivery people drop off this fella:

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In reality it often takes a village to raise a monkey (yes, I love mixing a metaphor too, apologies). In most businesses the business of monkey care (monkey business, if you will) is the responsibility of a network of people. That's why, in an agile, changing or fluid business the only real way to make sure your monkey is happy, well-fed and well-behaved is to communicate. Everyone has to be aware of what it takes to raise a monkey - even if they don't do the whole job. The guy who pays has to understand how many bananas a healthy monkey eats. The guy who feeds the monkey has to know if they have the lee-way to use a few bananas for trick-teaching purposes. What if there are conflicts? We can't afford bananas and we need to feed the monkey baked beans? Does the bean-counter understand the implications of flatulence-inducing monkey food? If everyone thinks its their job to feed the monkey it'll get fat. If no-one does, the RSPCA will be called. 

And there are some bigger monkey ownership questions:

If the monkey broke free and killed someone, who would go to jail?
If the monkey died, who decides if we get a new monkey? 

And lastly, what's the impact of a badly behaved or dead monkey? Who will suffer? Do we know? Do we care?

After all, someone somewhere is likely sitting next to a typewriter eagerly awaiting the next act of Hamlet.  They have a stake in this monkey too.