Feels Like Moving a Big Bag of Water

In this article I am using a metaphor in order to think outside the boundaries of how we are supposed to run our projects. So we can reach a different conclusion on how we can make our projects more succesful.

The inertia and resistance we find in some organizations can be very frustrating. A few years ago I met a practitioner who compared his current project with the force of pushing a very big bag of water. According to him:

“As long as the project is going on we can actually move that big bag a few inches in the right direction. When we stop pushing, the bag takes back its original shape and place. There is no way we can move it from A (the current state) to B (the future state). But if this multimillion dollar project isn’t going to pull it off, then what is?”

As a matter of fact, in 70% of the cases, the bag resumes its original position.
Moving a bag from A to B

Gotta Love Metaphors

Needless to say, his question has been on my mind more than once. If our projects are no more than temporary efforts to push a big bag, then what can we do for our projects to succeed? That’s where the fun of a metaphor does the trick. In this case I only see two ways the bag can move from A to B.

  1. A new bag. Using some buckets and a new bag may do the trick. Carefully open the bag, fill the buckets and start filling the other bag. I know, this sounds awfully complex, expensive and time-consuming. Although it will bring an effective solution, I have yet to meet the first sponsor who would gladly buy-in to that scenario.
  2. Tilting the floor. If you can’t open the bag and the force you exert is too weak, why not use a lever to tilt the floor?

From Metaphors to Changing our Approach

OK, time to make some sense of the bag-moving-solutions above.

  1. Changing for a new bag is the equivalent of completely stopping the operations, breaking the organization down piece by piece and rebuilding it under the new circumstances. Organizations never follow that scenario willingly because the implications of stopping operations and switching to a different future are too big. But then again, ask anyone at Kodak or any other traditional business if they are better off now.
  2. Tilting the floor is the equivalent of changing the conversation about the context we are living and working in. If we are capable of changing the conversation about the value of the current state A as opposed to the value of the future state B we are changing the context. Value is a matter of making sense, and it is very powerful. It’s the same psychological mechanism that causes economic markets to collapse or thrive.

This metaphor confirms that every investment in individual and collective sense-making (as opposed to temporary project-propaganda) is worth it. Tilting the floor has serious consequences on the way we run our projects. It means we need to re-think and re-design the way we can “co-create” and “co-mmunicate” all the steps we usually do in automatic pilot mode.

How about you? Is your project pushing agianst the organization in a temporary effort to move it some inches? Or is your project constructing a lever to tilt the floor?