Four blind men and an elephant

One of the less pleasing aspects of my role is when I get drawn into unfortunate situations that are avoidable, especially where planning or preparation has been sacrificed in the name of expediency; You immediately know that the time ‘saved’ will be dwarfed by the number of meetings required to unravel the mess.

One stunning example of this I have encountered was a project to migrate some services to a new hardware platform, including the decommissioning of redundant hardware. So far, so good. In fact the planning process jumped swiftly from initial idea to detailed design, following a brief check with the project sponsor on scope.

We got cracking and had nearly completed the project when it was realised that the decommissioning didn’t include a final, vital piece of work. It wasn’t a requirement but was deemed essential to the sponsor, who needed it as a prerequisite to another project. Worse still we had already taken the allocated budget for the work, so were compelled to complete it. Ouch!

I vaguely recall an old proverb about four blind men and an elephant, which goes something like this: 

Four men are out walking one day when they bump into an elephant. Each one’s path is blocked by a different part of the animal, which they touch and proclaim to be a different object, e.g. a tree (leg) or a fan (ear). The now agitated elephant bellows loudly, upon which they all realise that the objects are all part of a single elephant.

This is akin to what happened with our project. By not ensuring our view of the scope and requirements of the project aligned with those of the sponsor, we ended up with a disjointed view of the situation. A real recipe for disaster.

I’m sure I could relate this to other work situations, but it illustrates the point nicely. To avoid nasty surprises and really deliver the value, you do need to get the bigger picture and not take shortcuts.

Ian Connelly

Ian ConnellyIan is the IT Environments Manager at a London-based specialist insurer with an experienced track record of leading and transforming the performance of service desks, technical and operational IT functions. As Chairman to the BCS Service Management Specialist Group, Ian also provides an official conduit between the specialist group committee, BCS HQ and group members for all formal communication.

Comments (2)

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  • 1
    Jez Murray wrote on 11th Nov 2015

    Hallelujah for the systemic thinkers :0)

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  • 2
    Pauline Curtis wrote on 12th Nov 2015

    Yes, Jez.

    When the problem is really complex then I find a 'soft systems' approach (originally developed by Checkland) can be useful.

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