When Project Managers and others work on projects, they often consider themselves enlightened seekers. People seeking new and better ways to do things. They are often frustrated by those not eagerly embracing the changes. Let’s call them dwarfs; people who are not on a journey, but who have the knowledge and almost magical power to make a project succeed or fail. Dwarfs are often more critical to the success of the project than the seeker or anyone else might expect. I contend that to succeed, you have to be both. Sometimes you need seekers and sometimes you need dwarfs.
Now, this is not the terminology of PMI or Lean or Agile or PRINCE2. It is older wisdom, articulated by the first Project Management advisers, the Brothers Grimm in 1819. In The Water of Life, they articulated how to achieve project success under the most trying of circumstances.
A Brief Retelling of The Water of Life
The king (CEO) was troubled. A great malaise gripped the land and infected him. New directions and ideas were needed, but who could help? He called his three princes (favorite PMs) together to look for solutions. The kingdom’s future depended upon the success of the undertaking. The company needed The Water of Life to survive.
The first prince stepped forward with a plan that could be implemented quickly. It would be costly, but he was bringing in the best and brightest to assist on the new strategy. He had detailed project schedules, maps to success and visionary PowerPoints. The king was hesitant, but blessed the undertaking and sent him forth.
The prince and his beautifully dressed and highly compensated, expert consultants set out, executing his plan “Seeking The Water of Life”. As they set off, they came upon a dwarf who asked what the commotion was all about? The prince responded that they were on a mission to save the land, to seek the Water of Life. You are either with us or against us. The dwarf mumbled something about daily requirements, but the seekers were so enthralled with visions of The Water of Life, that they couldn’t waste their time. There were no tasks for taking on the dwarf’s daily dawdle. So they hurried off, seeking The Water of Life.
The dwarf, frustrated at their not understanding the importance of his daily dawdle watched them ride into blind canyon. This canyon had enticing valleys, but while the valleys looked promising and the road out of the canyon closed in behind them. Trapped, with the canyon walls closing in around them, the seekers couldn’t even get cell phone reception, as the mountains blocked the signals and they were never heard from again.
The second son had used the time while his older brother was away to plot his own path to the kingship and had put together his plan for saving the kingdom. This he presented to the king. The prince’s arguments were good and he promised to be agile and communicate constantly to the king.
He was given a smaller budget and tighter deadlines as he set off to seek The Water of Life. Due to his constant communications with his customer’s, who were paying for his endeavor, he barely noticed the dwarf as he rushed past. The dwarf called out, but watched him continuously communicate himself into the quicksand. Hopelessly trapped and sinking, the prince yelled frantically at the dwarf, but the dwarf, turning back to his daily dawdle, chuckled as the high and mighty sunk beneath him.
The third son, who hadn’t prepared plans because he was busy with the details of running the kingdom, came forward and said he would seek The Water of Life. The king was skeptical. There was no vision. There were no schedules. There was no map to the water. The son reasoned that no one knew where The Water of Life was, so how could they map a path there?
The third son set out and when he came upon the dwarf, the dwarf asked where he was going. The son said he was seeking The Water of Life and would welcome any help the dwarf could give. The dwarf, touched that someone recognized and took the time to listen to him, replied that he knew where the water of life flowed. The prince asked if he could help him get there? Yes, responded the dwarf. The journey is long, but as you have taken the time to ask and listen to me, I will help you get the Water of Life. And with the dwarf’s help, the son set out on a different path. One no one else would have taken, seeking the water of life.
I urge you to read the der Brüder Grimm for the details of how the journey turned out. There are riches, beautiful princesses and all the rewards a seeker could hope for. But before you go, please think about when you are a seeker and when you are a dwarf?