82 What Smell?
  • Madame Fleury’s Bakery is in the village of Chamonix in the French Alps. Every morning, each customer who enters to get fresh bread or croissants breaks into an uncontrolled grin; the place just smells so scrumptious. Madame Fleury and her staff give excellent service to their delirious customers, but they are not smiling.
  • On the eastern end of Long Island, there are duck farms. Most are family-owned and family-operated. You know you are approaching a duck farm not by seeing it, not by reading a sign for it, but by smelling it. Stench is a kind descriptor for the smell. If you can stand to get close enough, your eyes will tear involuntarily. How can the family work on the duck farm, day-in and day-out? The only possible answer is that they just don’t smell all those duck deposits.

The metaphorical scent of projects, and of entire organizations, is usually strong; it varies from bakery to duck farm, but the denizens’ senses are saturated by the smell.

All workers need to know what their organization smells like, so they can decide to either

  • Breathe deeply and do nothing different at all.
  • Open the windows a bit.
  • Fumigate.

No matter what position you hold in your organization, you cannot determine its smell yourself. You need to bring in some fresh noses from the outside world to sniff around your place. Interestingly, if you have been around projects for a while, you are probably completely capable of doing this task for other organizations. You might be able to set up a Smell-Now: It’s-For-Facts (SNIFF) program through a local chapter of a professional society.

We have been sniffing around organizations for years, and without explanation, here are some actual scents we’ve sniffed, other than bakery and duck farm:

  • nursing home
  • monkey cage
  • teenager’s bedroom
  • make-up room backstage
  • sea breeze 
  • oncologist’s waiting room
  • mildew
  • playground
  • electrical fire
  • cigar bar

If you can’t guess the kind of organization from its scent, either you’re in it, or you have just never walked into that kind of office.

As the Lynyrd Skynyrd lyric goes,“Can’t you smell that smell?”