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A Fable to Fix Your Projects

Diggin' Holes

I came across a story recently and thought I would pass it along to see if you can relate.

One balmy Summer morning, an old man was walking his dog when he noticed two men, clad in jeans, bright orange safety vests, and helmets, both armed with shovels. Curious, the old man paused as he watched one man begin to dig while the other waited patiently.

The first man finished his hole, and began digging another, several feet away. The second man picked up his shovel, strode over to the first hole, and began scooping dirt back into the hole, filling it.


The old man shook his head--maybe they were looking for something, maybe they were testing the soil, who knows. He tugged on the leash, encouraging the pup back to their leisurely stroll.

258Later that day, on their routine mid-afternoon walk, the old man and dog observed that the two workers were still doing...something. They appeared to have had a very busy day, as the ground was littered with mounds of dirt where there had previously been a hole that wasn't there this morning and is no longer there now, yet had clearly been dug somewhere in the interim.


"Excuse me," the old man said to one of the workers. "What are you doing?"


The digger-of-holes removed his helmet to dab the sweat from his forehead. "Well," he said, "I'm the guy who digs the holes." He thrust his thumb in the general direction of his partner, who was about two scoops away from filling yet another hole. "And he's the guy who fills 'em."


The old man nodded. "I see that," he responded. "But why?"


The first man propped an elbow on his shovel. "Well, see, usually there's three of us. But the guy who puts the trees in didn't show up for work today."


The old man shook his head and walked away, grumbling something about wasted dollars under his breath.


And so our story ends with a bewildered old man and two men who are doing their jobs without actually accomplishing anything at all. Seems silly, doesn't it? But haven't we all seen some variation of this on a project before? How can we avoid this same scenario in real life, on our real projects?


Are You Digging Holes On Your Projects?

Do you know why? Do you know who's digging?

4196If we understand why we're doing what we're doing, we can do it better. Critical success factors on any project include making sure everyone understands the big-picture goal, and establishing the right roles and filling them with the right people.

Another key component that can make or break a project is communication. When we communicate well, we know what we need to know, share what we need to share, and know what we need to do.


Think of a project you're working on right now. Can you answer the questions below? Can your fellow team members answer them? What about your PM?


1. What are you doing and why?

2. Who's doing what for this project?


Are You Paying Someone to Dig Holes for You?

Sometimes our team doesn't have the bandwidth to dig our own holes, and we need to hire someone to help. Remember those two questions above? Same rules apply if we want to be successful. We desperately need everyone working with us on a project to be on the same page--this includes people outside our organization who impact or are impacted by a project.


Don't dig dumb holes. Know why you're digging them, what you're going to do with them, and the who's and how's associated!


Topics: Sinikka Waugh, Communication & Collaboration, Project Management & Business Analysis

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! contactus@yourclearnextstep.com

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