Using the "blind men and the elephant" metaphor, this useful guide explains how a "follow the leader" approach creates troubled projects by pulling attention from the real source of power and authority—the individual. Using real-world stories, it shows how anyone can transform a fuzzy project assignment into a meaningful, satisfying experience. Author David A. Schmaltz—creator of True North's Mastering Projects Workshop at Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Project Sun Workshop—reframes the root cause of difficulties in project work, singling out "incoherence" (the inability of people to make common meaning from their common experience) as the main obstacle, and presents a set of simple, easily available techniques to increase a project's coherence and its participants' enjoyment of the process.
Review By: Lee Copeland 06/23/2010I've heard the story many times about the blind men and the elephant and how each man "sees" the elephant differently. In fact, David Schmaltz uses the story as the structure for his excellent book on project management.
From each of the views of the blind men—the wall, spear, snake, tree, fan, and rope—Schmaltz provides his unique views of project work. Schmaltz handles this complex subject with insight and wit. Like me, Schmaltz is a storyteller, and his stories illustrate and amplify his many excellent observations.
Don’t read this book if you’re looking for instructions on how to use Microsoft Project. Don’t read this book if you believe that project planning can be distilled into a multistep process in a multivolume cookbook. Do read this book if you understand that project work is a complex, exciting, rewarding, and often magical social interaction. Unlike most project managers, Schmaltz believes that "innocent attempts to manage our futures create unmanageable ones, well-intended efforts to script the play undermine the purpose of the performance. Our directing guarantees mediocrity. We've filled our tool kit with tools we’re much better off not using" (The Blind Men, 8-9).
Schmaltz addresses key concepts of project work: power, motivation, relationships, responsibility, growth, understanding, clarification, patience, communication, coherence, and magic. These are the building blocks of every successful project. Processes can always replace these. But when they do, we all lose.
Schmaltz presents an excellent discussion of the master-slave relationship common in many projects. Many of us are required to be masters, to know, unequivocally, what is best for others. The rest of us are required to be slaves, to be unthinking automatons who carry out the scripted plans of the masters. In such a structure, slaves suppress their power to make meaningful change; masters believe they are all-powerful and must be obeyed. Both are, of course, wrong. Under the terms of this relationship, "failure becomes unavoidable and the fault of whomever was assigned the lowest 'responsible' slave position in the pecking order" (20). Schmaltz calls on us to liberate ourselves from this paradigm.
The section titled "Discovering What I Want" reawakened vital knowledge I thought I had lost. Schmaltz discusses the futility of trying to motivate others. He calls on each of us, within the project context, to identify what we personally want to achieve. Quite rightly, he believes that our personal motivation far exceeds anything that management or organization can create. He writes: "Trying to motivate is a form of bribery. Bribery robs everyone involved" (94).
Perhaps my favorite quotation is: "My rule now is: If someone casts himself or herself in the role of knowing better than me what's going on inside of me, I leave. I am nobody's Village Idiot. Neither are you." As the recipient of countless hours of counseling throughout my life by people who claimed to know how I felt, I appreciate Schmaltz's succinct advice.
I recommend this book to anyone involved in project work. Read through the first chapter. By the end, you will know if this book is for you.