David Schmaltz uses the John Godfrey Saxe poem of The Blind Men and the Elephant to illustrate the challenges of project management. Six blind men decide they want to know what an "elephant" is. They are lead to an elephant, they all stand around it and they're touching the different parts of an elephant, describing to the others what an "elephant" is like.
The one who is feeling the trunk says it's like a snake; the one touching the ear says it's like a fan; the one who is feeling the tusk says it's like a spear; the one who is touching a leg says it's like a tree trunk; the one touching the body says it's like a wall; the one touching the tail says it's like a rope. All of them are right, but what they don't realize is that they only have their own unique perspective.
Schmaltz likens this to project teams, where each of the roles has their own perspective of the whole. I think what he's getting at is that reason that projects fail is not because of the tradition excuses we give: customers demand too much; customers change their minds all the time; compressed schedules; budget cutting; people don't work hard enough; yadda yadda. I think Schmaltz is saying that it's not because of those things, rather it's because of the lack of a cohesive vision in the project goal(s). Project participants (especially the ones in leadership or decision-making roles) don't see the project from anyone else's point of view but their own and therefore don't understand why things fall apart when they do. Because they can't see why things fall apart, they can't see what should be done about it... or they try to fix it wrong which either makes no difference or ends up making things worse.
I could have just said all that and given the impression that I understood it all, loved it and went on my merry way. But the truth is, I didn't understand a thing. I had no idea where he was coming from, where he WAS at any given point, or where he was going with any of the stories. Well, okay, that's not quite true. In certain places, I did think that I was sorta starting to begin to get him... but then he continued talking and I was lost again. =\
I had read the preface. I suppose that was fair warning that it's not an instruction manual: don't expect it to tell you what to do, it's vague and all over the place, just like life is apt to be. Fine. I had an instructor who taught by telling stories too. I found it hard to follow sometimes because I'm engrossed in the stories and forget what the point was. But I did well with the stories and I thought that I should keep an open mind. Afterall, learning by someone else's examples is a valuable thing, which I have also had good experiences with, in the past.
I can't follow this book. I can't finish it. And this is, obviously, not because of the book. It looks like it was a good read for so many people. I have finally just had to give up and accept that I am, very simply, not within the group that is the target audience.
I suppose that somewhere along the line, there has to be a book I'm not totally crazy about. I feel bad because someone lent it to me very enthusiastically and as irrational as it may be, I felt like I was letting him down by ... not getting it.
[Update - Sunday, May 21, 2006]
So, after writing this, I tried reading it AGAIN. And gave up AGAIN. Twice. But ironically and amusingly enough, I finally did understand it. Not by reading the orginal text, but from reading articles, synopses and reviews ABOUT this book by various other people all over the internet. As pathetic as that is, at least I finally have the impression that I get it.
I think the story-telling style sometimes really doesn't work for me.