“Baa-ram-ewe!” How the movie Babe explains the value of Lean project management

In the classic 1995 film Babe, a young pig uses unusual methods of communication to herd sheep in—spoiler!—winning a sheep herding competition. This turns out to be an excellent metaphor for understanding the difference between regular project management and lean project management.

 

On Arthur Hoggett’s farm, Babe is a newly adopted pig seeking his purpose among the animals. The stakes are high—as the cat points out, animals on a farm without a purpose get eaten. Babe has been adopted by Fly and Rex, the farmer’s trusty border collies, and thinks he might try his luck at herding sheep. He has watched closely as Fly and Rex run through the flock of confused and panicked sheep, barking and snapping at their hooves to chase them home to the farmer’s field.

 

Babe tries this traditional “wolf” method of herding and fails miserably. He can’t run fast enough or bite hard enough to move the sheep. In despair, he confesses his challenge to prove useful on the farm to the sheep and ends up listening to the wisdom of the older ewes. And that’s the essence of lean project management. When the sheep connect their actions to a larger purpose—helping Babe avoid the slaughterhouse—they know exactly how to help and easily assemble themselves to return to the farm.

 

So many project managers think that if they run faster and bark louder their sheep will magically become organized. Instead, the opposite is true.

 

When Farmer Hoggett brings Babe to the county sheep trials, Babe encounters a new flock and discovers that he must connect with these sheep in order to communicate with them. In the movie, there’s a secret phrase that signals you’re an ally to all sheep:

 

Baa-ram-ewe! Baa-ram-ewe! To your breed, your fleece, your clan be true! Sheep be true! Baa-ram-ewe.

 

In reality, it’s never that easy. Lean project management requires actively earning your team members’ trust to pull wisdom from the flock. Sometimes that means building a bridge to recalcitrant subcontractors, sometimes that means giving up your own assumptions about how a project should get done. Either way, a lean approach to project management ensures the best results for the owner. It saves Babe’s bacon and ensures Farmer Hoggett always has the wool he needs to keep him warm.

 

Christopher Strom, Director of Project Development