My younger brother John used to mow our neighbor, Theo Ferg’s, lawn. One week, John had a football camp to go to so I volunteered to substitute for John. Heck, I needed the money, and he wasn’t home, so I figured we might as well keep it in the family.

After I finished, Theo Ferg (who was like an uncle to me) came over and asked my dad when John was coming back. My dad said, “Next week, why?” Theo Ferg replied, telling him that John mowed the lawn and I merely cut the grass. I didn’t want to ask anyone what he meant, but it stung. So, the next week, I watched John “mow the lawn” and I couldn’t figure out what Theo Ferg meant. We used the same mower, emptied the bag in the same place, and mowed to the same height. The only real difference is that John took longer.

I was stumped, and couldn’t still figure it out, so I pondered who I should ask. My dad already thought I was an idiot, so I couldn’t ask him. When I asked John, his answer was “people like him better,” which didn’t help. So, I swallowed some humble pie and asked Theo Ferg, knowing my uncle would level with me. Theo Ferg replied that we both cut the grass well. But unlike me, John trimmed the bushes, swept the deck, and cleaned up the garage when he finished. John took the initiative to do everything; he didn’t have to be told. It was a life lesson that has bled into everything I’ve done since.

Look at the yard with your projects-not the grass.

When working with customers, it’s not just about the software, costs, resources, timeline, or baseline issues. It’s all of those things—plus the things that our projects touch that we often don’t think about. Too often, we cut the grass in our projects and don’t mow the lawn. Instead of seeing the whole picture, we limit our view to just a slice.

Theo Ferg taught me two life lessons that summer:

  1. Mow the lawn in everything that I do.
  2. Everyone likes my younger brother better than me.

Do you and your team cut the grass or mow the lawn in your projects?

Does everyone like your younger sibling more than you?