Today, we will see what we can learn from the fable The Blind men and the Elephant by John Godfrey to see how it can be applied in the context of project management. If you do not know the story here’s how it goes. Six blind men up to an elephant to “see” it and describe how it looks. Each of the six men perceive the elephant differently, as a snake, wall, spear, tree, fan and rope. What ensues is a theological war, where each cannot see beyond their own perspective.
Think back about a past project that you have finished. Chances are that you had a plan drawn out for it and had a leader assigned to manage it. Now fast-forward to the time of project completion, and look at the project timeline. Did it involve the project members taking unified decisions despite their contrasting perspectives, or a despotic project regime where the all-seeing manager called all the shots? The project probably went downhill if you experienced the latter, and ended in disconcert as in the case of the fable where the blind men could not see what the other blind men were saying. If you were lucky enough to experience the former then you probably saw why incorporating decisions that other project members put forward made sense when the project came to fruition, despite the fact that your views were different.
Lessons from the fable
Of course, there is no point in drawing a correlation between the fable and project management if you do not have any useful takeaways. Here are some lessons that you can implement in your project:
- Understand what is your purpose and intention in being a part of the project. When you have a clear-cut view on your motive, it becomes much easier to see things from others’ perspective as well.
- A rulebook is a good thing, but a flexible rulebook is even better. No doubt you have set processes for your project, but be prepared to look beyond it (unlike what the blind men failed to do in the fable). Blindly following these process, just because it took you great time and effort to lay it down will simply put the project on the chopping block.
- As a project manager, avoiding a mess is probably one of your first instincts. However, do not try to predict and organize things even before they unfurl. In case things do get messed up, sit down with it and understand it to see what is the best possible way to fix it. This is where taking in the opinion of your team members and taking a collective decision also comes in.