Project Management Metaphors
The ones I like most
If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will jump out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, the frog will sink into a tranquil state and will allow itself to be boiled to death.
The boiling frog story is a used as a metaphor for the inability of people to react to significant changes that occur gradually.
If you bring change at once people will resist, if you bring it gently they will adapt.
Chimpanzee tea party
If you let chimps run their own tea party, it may look chaotic and yes, they will spill some of the tea, but at the end the chimps will actually finish their tea and cookies.
If you try impose your way of "having a tea party" on the chimps, you will have a pandemonium. The chimps will not enjoy their tea let alone finish it.
This story is a metaphor used to show that it is possible that when we try to create order in a situation we see as chaos, we risk disturbing the order that exists within the chaos.
Experienced consultants and system users are like the chimps on a tea party. They know their goals and are used to achieve them in a certain way of working. It may not be exactly the way of working you would prefer but in actual fact, imposing your way of working will be counter-productive.
Instruct them carefully about the expected results and the deadlines to achieve. Tell them that you expect professional behaviour, meaning, when you see a problem in your way, do not hesitate to call the project manager. She/He is there to help you.
Do not interfere too much in their day to day work but do measure the results. They really know what they are doing.
Consultants, please don't be offended. After all, I'm told we are genetically just supersmart chimps and keep in mind I'm a consultant myself.
If you need to bring change to a bureaucratic monster turtle of an organization, you can always raise the pirate flag.
Your team will move fast and will not comply with the dominant culture.
If there is any strategy that might backfire on you, it is this one.
You might get fired before the project is finished. But boy, you and your team will have fun.
This team will have a great time and will stay mateys for the rest of their lives. After all, they fought against a common enemy.
You will not make many friends outside of the team but that never scared of a pirate before.
This is a usefull project strategy but one to think about carefully and one that needs to be handled with great care.
You can always settle for just "rocking the boat". The results can be as rewarding without disrupting the relationship with the organization. After all, what is the worth of new information system without an organization supporting it?
The Fish Pond
Being a keen gardener I've seen many good looking ponds on my trips to show gardens. The water is clear, the plants grow and the fish look happy. There might even be frogs jumping around.
Anybody who started a pond of his own knows it is not that easy. Dig a hole; put some earth in it; add some plants and some fish and we're off. Before you know it one of the plants you introduced acts like a weed and the fish pollute the water, feeding the algae.
You end up having a green, muddy looking pool without the Monet water lilies you envisioned floating above some good looking fish.
It does not make you very happy this pond, after all the effort you've put into it. If you experiment by neglecting the pond for a while and see what happens, you'll find out your pond is too small a piece of water to self-correct.
On the internet and in some interesting books about IT projects, the fish pond has become a metaphor for IT projects. The pond is a complex ecosystem with lots of "agents" (plants, fish, water) interacting with each other. If you really want to know everything that is going on, you need to observe it carefully.
Projects are just like the pond. There are a lot of "agents", each with their own ideas about what to get from the project, interacting with each other. Each of the agents is continuously going through their own OODA-cycles: Observe, Orient, Decide & Act.
Everything that is going on in a project, like the ecosystem of a pond, is too complex for us to figure out on a Sunday afternoon. Cause and effect are not directly visible.
I haven't finished reading on this topic. If you want to know more search the internet for "fish pond metaphor" and you'll find a lot of interesting reading material.