Your Projects Explained by a Pumpkin Patch

Your Projects Explained by a Pumpkin Patch
October 14, 2010 Derek Fournier

I recently spent half a day helping my wife’s church with a project they work on every year. The church creates a “Pumpkin Patch” for Halloween (Fall Festival for the Politically Correct crowd) by bringing in a semi trailer full of pumpkins and gourds and decorating a front area of their property. For years we, like many other families in our town, bought our pumpkins from this event but this year, I was more actively involved. So, at 8:30 in the morning I showed up with a crew of ill prepared volunteers to unload a ludicrous number of gourds from the truck. In doing so, I reinforced a couple of powerful lessons about project management and rediscovered the beauty of a concept called “billions of interconnected gadgets.”

As you can imagine, to unload a full semi trailer of gourds requires a tremendous amount of effort. The crowd was a mixed group of adults and children with varied levels of interest, dedication and capabilities. While some were physically capable of all required work, they were not bought into the process. Conversely, many of the young people were very excited to help but simply did not have the skills necessary to be 100% effective in the task. This is not unlike the makeup of most teams. Teams are comprised of many players of varying ability and motivation. The trick is to mobilize the group into action in a way that maximizes each person’s talents and gets the job done efficiently. This is where the conflict arose.

I am normally a Type A person. I will lead 9 times out of 10. Now as a non-member of the church (I was simply hired muscle, allocated by my wife in her stead to help out) I was trying to lay back and simply put in my work. I as not going to be outworked by anyone but I also was not there to take over the leadership. This is a project that had run many times in the past without my help so I assumed they had a set of “Best Practices” that they would implement. The assigned leader, a nice fellow, was busy letting people know that we would be using a bucket brigade to get the pumpkins out to the pallets that were already laid out on the field. This seemed like a logical enough idea and even once I saw someone bringing in some technology (a wheelbarrow and a tractor) I quickly surmised that the interoperation and cooperation of the bucket brigade was far more efficient with its constant throughput than the disruptive use of the technology. This was a surprise as I am a guy, and tools are good. In this case though, I watched the bucket brigade shuttling the gourds down the line and the transmission itself was pretty amazingly efficient. Things were far from perfect however.

In subsequent posts we will review the pitfalls and problems encountered and how, despite all of those challenges, the “Pumpkin Patch” still got assembled and will once again provide gourdy goodness to the homes of my area. This end state is important to realize when we are faced with the fear of project failure. Perseverance and desire are far more critical than most give them credit for. Since that is the case, the historically overlooked morale aspect of leadership can often be the most critical.

Read the whole series on the Pumpkin Patch:

  1. Projects Explained by a Pumpkin Patch
  2. Strategic Planning and the Pumpkin Patch
  3. The Self Appointed Leader
  4. Tractors versus the Bucket Brigade
  5. The Pumpkin Patch Post Mortem
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