A Better Donut

by lizclark on July 4, 2013

I still remember the day clearly in my mind.  If I had been a cartoon character, you would have seen the imaginary lightbulb above my head suddenly switch “on!”


 It was at my first real job 15 years ago.  I was fresh out of college and had just been hired into a full-time position following a competitive internship at a Fortune 500 Company.  I was over-the-moon excited and ready to take on the world.

The job was fairly clear-cut.  I was a “Communications Specialist” in this company’s massive IT department…and I had business cards to prove it.  I had a manager and a formal mentor.  My own cubicle with my own desk phone.  I couldn’t believe how blessed I was.

I had lots of new job responsibilities and quickly set to learning the ropes.   I arrived every day 15 minutes early, worked hard, took initiative, asked questions until I saw people’s eyes begin to glaze over.  I memorized the organizational structure of my department and the company.  I filled notebooks with everything I was learning about working in a major corporation – which was unlike any other job I had ever had. Life was very structured.

But, over time (before my “lightbulb moment”), a strange kind of “fog” set in.  I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I was being paid well for my age.  I had benefits.  But, after I grew competent in my day-to-day responsibilities and learned as much as I could about the company’s vision and strategy, I found myself….bored.

At the recommendation of my mentor, I signed up for some continuous improvement courses and a whole new world opened up to me.  One of the classes I took introduced me to Six Sigma and the DMAIC concept (more on that later). At the end of the course, we had to lead an improvement “project” to get our certification.  All of a sudden, everything made sense.  The “fog” that had been mucking up my work life had lifted!  I was being asked to look around and find something in my day-to-day work that could be measurably improved!!  It was like Christmas! (If you didn’t believe me when I said I was a nerd before….case closed).


Through that experience, I learned that “day-to-day” was one type of work and a “project” was an entirely different type of work!  I’ll use the Project Management Institute (PMI) definition here in case my “lightbulb moment” was too nebulous for you:

“A project is a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result. A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. And a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal.”


A very experienced project manager broke it down for me years ago…


“There are the people that make the donuts.  Every day, they get up and they say, ‘Time to make the donuts.’ And then…day after day, they make the donuts.  And they love it.  But, one day, someone decides to make the donuts better.  Or to design a new donut.  Maybe even a bagel.  So, a project is born.  Those idea people need special people like us to come in and make it happen.  But, we don’t make the donuts.  Thank God!”

A project is very different from day-to-day work.  It has a beginning, it hopefully accomplishes a goal and then it ends.

To me, projects are the spice in the sauce.  The thing that keeps us from going insane from boredom.  All strategic growth in any given business happens because of a successful project (a new advertising campaign, breaking into a new market or a new product launch are all examples of projects).

And, in life?  Who wants to live a day-to-day existence without vacations, parties or special events?  All examples of projects…and life wouldn’t be nearly as sweet without them.

As much as we need “day-to-day” routine, we need projects to keep us moving forward and growing.  In my next series of posts, I’ll share the basic toolkit every good project manager needs.  And, maybe another story that involves breakfast pastry.

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