Words of Wisdom for
Leadership, Learning, and Life in
Exactly 99 Words

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Talk Quick!
99-Word Stories to Spark Discussion about Common Management Issues
by Brian Remer

Talk Quick! is a collection of group discussion starters designed to inspire meaningful conversations about important management issues.
(12 Discussion Activities, 33 pages, Cross Referenced, $10)

Learn more HERE.

99's On the Go

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99-Word Stories by ,
Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2014 Brian Remer
Updated Apr. 2015

99's on the 9th

Ideas based on 99-Word Stories that
come to you on the 9th of every month.

April 2015

Read this story aloud or make copies for your group or team members.

Doing the Dishes
I don't mind washing the dishes. It's a way to help out when I haven't assisted with the cooking. There's one thing I've never been able to get a handle on, though. Just as I dry my hands, I'll turn around and find another dirty plate, cup, or pot slouching nonchalantly in a corner. How did I miss that? Can I ever get all the dishes clean?

These days I realize that this is what dishes are for. They are supposed to get dirty, be washed, get dirty again.

Some things are never finished. Accept it!

You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discussion within your team or organization.

There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis.

It's called "scope creep", the phenomena of the project that never ends. While working steadily toward a goal, other issues arise, a new twist is encountered, a wrinkle unfolds. At some point we look up from the daily grind to notice that while a lot has been accomplished, the original goal is still unfinished and, worse, our expectations about what will make it complete have evolved.

In her book, 10 Steps to Successful Project Management, Lou Russell writes, "Scope will evolve continually… If a project is going to continue to provide the business benefit detailed in the [goal], it has to evolve over time… Scope creep kills a project only when the stakeholders, including the project manager, don't agree that the scope has changed."

Experienced project leaders begin with a charter, an agreement from all the stakeholders about the goal and the milestones to reach it. With a clear agreement at the beginning, everyone knows the "definition" of a finished project. And when unanticipated events impact the project, there is a process in place to reconsider whether to alter that definition.

A desire to make every aspect of a project exactly perfect is a big contributor to scope creep. In Russell's view, a perfectionist "doesn't want the project to end because it's never quite right. This person usually is one of your technical or subject-matter experts. Although perfection is a nice ideal, it's not cost feasible. You'll have to push your perfectionists to finish the tasks they've been assigned - especially at the end."

And this highlights another way to control scope creep. Though it may seem obvious when a project has ended, it's not just perfectionists who may want the work to continue. Sponsors who want another feature, or people who misinterpret a contract will insist on more work. From Russell's viewpoint, the solution is, "A project manager has to find some way to describe a final deliverable - an outcome, a product, a process, something tangible or measurable that means 'our work is over here'".

With all of this in mind, there are still some projects that will never end - nor should they! Like washing the dishes, some projects should be ongoing with continual review to keep them at a high level of awareness. What would it be like if we intentionally increased the scope of our strategic planning? Are there ways to inject a bit of scope creep into our quality improvement, learning programs, innovation initiatives, and leadership development?

Strategic scope creep might be what we ought to strive for: finding ways to inject elements of mission-critical long-term projects into the routine of our quotidian responsibilities.


10 Steps to Successful Project Management by Lou Russell, ASTD Press, Alexandria, VA © 2007, ISBN-10: 1-56286-463-7.


Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.

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