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What Do Abbott and Costello Have To Do with Good Project Management?
By Ralph Dopping

When you were a teenager were you afraid to ask someone to dance? I was. Self-confidence was a scarce commodity back then and it can still creep up on me even these days but back then, woah! Look out, man. It had a hold on me. I was rich with don’t know how to act without tripping over my own tongue, totally awkward, gangly, bumbling-ness. You could set your clock to it and you could take that to the bank!

I can remember getting the obligatory lecture from pretty much everyone back then. If you don’t ask her then someone else will and they did, again and again and again. How awkward.

Boy, can you say lost opportunity?


That gosh-darn three letter word. There it is. It was as taboo to me as a four letter word back then and it didn’t even have the decency to act like it. At least four letter words have enough guts to stand up for what they are and what they believe in. They tend to keep it real!
Word! Funk! Good! Bang!

Ask should be condemned to live eternity in the triple-heated disease infested purgatory I had conjured up in my mind for it. There it would stay never to grace the halls of my thoughts ever again. Ever! Another one of those damn four letter words. Ugh!


One day I did it. Ask, that is. And because it took me so long and I thought about so hard and I was so nervous I think it came off as sweet or cute or some god awful thing. So, I tried it again and got turned down promptly! But an interesting thing happened. I realized that I really had nothing to lose and if I didn’t ask I had nothing to gain. Epiphany! After all, I was a nerdy (still am and I’m loving it) book reading artsy type. My type was certainly not at all within the norm back in those days and especially where I grew up. Who am I kidding? Like today’s any different. So, off I went and asked.

There is it, wunderkind!

Once again, mister, you have performed rocket science and a beautiful rocket it is. Shiny, new, sleek and powerful; just the way a new rocket is meant to be. Powerful is really the crux of the biscuit is it not? When you ask you are in control. It may not seem like it but until someone makes a move no one is in the driver’s seat; least of all you. The perception of power on the other person’s part is just that; perception. Yours, to be exact. They don’t hold anything over you and it’s likely they are afraid to ask you first. So, be brave grasshopper and venture gently over the rice paper, and ask!

If you don’t then someone else will. Where have you heard that before?

Ask is the number one best project management tool that you can possess. Along with simplicity these two can take you to the moon on the new fancy rocket you just got. Just ask. Why not? Oh, yeah, you might look like a fool? Really? Or maybe you’re not ready? Ready for what? There’s no excuse. Your team is just begging you to ask them how to solve that problem. Your client won’t know that you want to get paid for that extra work if you don’t ask. Your contractor will never give you that schedule, report or progress bill on time if you don’t ask. And (cue that scary music) your boss will never know you want that promotion, job, challenge, raise, whatever unless you use that one little teensy weensy single three letter word. Ask!
If you don’t ask you will never get what you want. There. I said it again!

Ah ha! But what about the old adage it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission? There’s another one! If you have to because of the circumstances (you were afraid, admit it) at least you will still ask. In this case asking for forgiveness is imperative no matter what your position but you still did that one important thing. Ask!

Asking is really the only way we can know that what we want is available to us. It’s really that easy and you know what the worst thing that can happen is, right? Nothing. That’s what you started with so you haven’t lost anything have you?

  • Ask for help.
  • Ask how you’re doing.
  • Ask for fair compensation.
  • Ask for the opportunity you want.
  • Ask to get paid on time.
  • Ask someone to dance.
  • Ask.

Now that you have this tip don’t make me look like a total nutcase and proceed to go crazy asking everyone for everything all the time. Just like good wine and cheap cigars asking is meant to be used in moderation. Another good project management tool but that’s for another day. Moderation, huh? Yep, that’s it, hook ‘em so they come back to see you again.

Abbott and Costello

Figure 1: Abbott and Costello

So, just as Abbott and Costello, who had it down to a science, would ask “Who’s on first?” go ahead and get it done.

  • What have you wanted to ask for lately?
  • What success have you had because you risked it and asked?
  • Do you have a story to share?

Ralph Dopping has called the Architecture & Design community home since 1987. He brings a long track record of building professional teams for a variety of project types focussed on national retail and corporate portfolios. His experiences in project and team management roles have lead him to a leadership technique that utilizes the key tenet of collaboration. Ralph contributes his success to his ability to elevate and empower teams to achieve their goals autonomously. His quirky, dry sense of humour allows him to maintain a strong results oriented focus which relies on fun, passion and hard work. He blogs continuously at

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