Mulch Ado About Nothing

October 8, 2008

A couple of weekends ago, I decided to enjoy some of the cooler temperatures (yes 90 degrees in Dallas is considered a cold front in September) and take care of a little yard work. One of my tasks was cleaning up the flower beds and installing a fresh batch of mulch. At my side was my trusty, eager, and willing sidekick “Deuce”, my three year old son. When I grabbed my shiny new shovel, he ran to the garage to grab his shiny blue (plastic) shovel. There was a question for every move and every object that was foreign to him “What’s that?”, “That’s yours?”, “Where’s mine?” Is there any thing called child physics, because with my kid, for every action, there is an equal and opposite question.

Anyway, with the weeds all pulled and the shrubs all trimmed, it was time to pull out that big bag of cedar mulch. As soon as I opened the bag, Deuce opened his mouth, “What’s that?” “Mulch” I replied. He looked at the bag; looked at me; back to the bag; then back at me… He gave me a confused look of disbelief and said almost disappointedly, “That’s wood sips!” (He has a little trouble with “ch” sounds sometimes). “That’s wood sips daddy!” he said again this time raising a palm full of chips above his head to make sure I got a good look of the stuff that I had mistakenly referred to as mulch. At that point, I was reminded by my three year old of a lesson that was taught and repeated to me many times before; “Call it like you see it!”

I think a lot of individuals, organizations and companies get in their own way by trying to characterize $2 tasks with $10 words. I’ve been as guilty as everyone else, more so in my experiences as a project manager than anything else. I’ve asked for an estimate on the release of the agreed upon deliverables that I and other stakeholders have a vested interest in before when I could have easily just asked “When will you have that done for us?” There’s no room for misinterpretation there? There’s irony in the thought that part of the purpose of the project management “discipline” is to promote a common language to make it easier to engage with others involved in the project. I’m not making that up.

At SoftLayer, we have an assortment of people from various professional, geographical and personal backgrounds. Though we do have “projects” that we “manage” we try not to get caught up in volleying high dollar “project management” verbiage over cubicle walls. We can’t afford to get things lost in communication so we tend to “call it like we see it”. I encourage you to try it for yourself. The next time you’re tempted to request the outputs from the user validation activities on your project, simply ask for the test results. The next time you’re tempted to order a “Grande Drip” from Starbucks, ask for a medium coffee. And, the next time you head to your local hardware store for a day of gardening on a “not so hot” hot day, be sure to get a big bag of “wood sips!”