×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

The Blind Men and the Elephant

timothy posted more than 10 years ago | from the don't-bury-your-arm-in-it dept.

Businesses 136

David McClintock writes "In David A. Schmaltz's new book, The Blind Men and the Elephant: Mastering Project Work, we find a powerful metaphor for the collaborative work involved in software or systems development. The metaphor is simple -- like the book title, it comes from John Godfrey Saxe's famous poem about the six blind men from Indostan. Simply put, Schmaltz is saying that your project is an invisible elephant. It's standing in a room, waiting to be revealed by a group of groping teammates." Read on for McClintock's review to see how well the analogy stands.

Each participant on a collaborative project encounters a piece of that project, rarely the whole elephant. We grasp whatever we can -- an ear, a tail, a trunk, a leg, a tusk, a broad, flat side. Based on what we grasp (our piece of the project) we extrapolate an understanding of the whole: a fan, a rope, a snake, a tree, a spear, a wall. Schmaltz develops these analogies in terms of project experience. We encounter a fan that brings us fresh air, a rope that binds us together, a snake that abuses our trust, a tree that evolves in structure above and beneath the surface, a spear that puts us on the defensive, a wall that challenges our personal progress. A chapter is devoted to each analogy.

This isn't a storybook, though. These simple metaphors are touchstones for Schmaltz's broad exploration of what makes projects meaningful. Schmaltz sheds light on the dark matter of project management -- the stuff that blocks us from succeeding on projects as individuals and as teams. He even leads us through the panicked self-talk that runs through a manager's head at the start of a project. With rich writing that's rare in management books, Schmaltz gives us a 360-degree view of project management itself -- project management is this book's invisible elephant. The elephant emerges.

You won't find any worksheets, diagrams, flow charts, procedures, instructions, or textbook problems in this book. Schmaltz gives us something more valuable and memorable: fresh ways to think about how we approach and manage projects. For example, managers should encourage each person to find a personal project within each project, something personally "juicy" to sustain interest and make the effort valuable. Going beyond the stated objectives of a project, each of us needs to ask ourself, "What do you want?" -- and to keep asking that until our personal goals emerge. These goals don't compete with the team's purpose -- they bind us to the project's success. This is the process of what Schmaltz calls "finding your wall."

Just as managers should encourage this kind of buy-in rather than try to externally motivate a team, managers should not impose a prefabricated structure onto a team. Schmaltz argues that when people find a personally juicy goal within a project, they will strive to organize their efforts in an efficient, organic manner -- without taking that twenty-volume project methodology off the shelf.

On a person-to-person level, Schmaltz asserts that despite the risk of getting cheated by snake-like deceivers, project members are most wise to interpret people's actions generously, assuming the best and freely offering trust and help. Using the results of a computer programming competition in which the Prisoner's Dilemma was solved by having the imprisoned conspirators refuse to implicate each other, Schmaltz shows that offering trust as a first principle can lead to bigger win-wins, more often.

Schmaltz consults on high-tech projects through his firm, True North project guidance strategies, based in Walla Walla, Washington. He hosts the Heretic's Forum, a Web space designed to "capture dangerously sane ideas." In addition to his periodic newsletter, Compass, he has published one previous book, This Isn't a Cookbook.

That invisible elephant, the powerful analogy at the center of this book, will enrich the way you approach new projects and reconsider problems -- especially the parts of problems that remain invisible to you on current projects. As Schmaltz wishes in a sort of benediction, "May this elephant emerge whenever you engage."


Reviewer David McClintock is president of Wordsupply.com. You can purchase The Blind Men and the Elephant: Mastering Project Work from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered

136 comments

Don't forget... (-1)

SCO$699FeeTroll (695565) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631178)

...to pay your $699 licensing fee you cock-smoking teabaggers.

GNAASTEE (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631607)

GNAASTEE is coming soon!

Re:GNAASTEE (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631980)

I'd like to slip on a latex glove and fist the elephants asshole. That sounds like a great software process to me!!!

In case of /.ing (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631185)

Each participant on a collaborative project encounters a piece of that project, rarely the whole elephant. We grasp whatever we can -- an ear, a tail, a trunk, a leg, a tusk, a broad, flat side. Based on what we grasp (our piece of the project) we extrapolate an understanding of the whole: a fan, a rope, a snake, a tree, a spear, a wall. Schmaltz develops these analogies in terms of project experience. We encounter a fan that brings us fresh air, a rope that binds us together, a snake that abuses our trust, a tree that evolves in structure above and beneath the surface, a spear that puts us on the defensive, a wall that challenges our personal progress. A chapter is devoted to each analogy.

This isn't a storybook, though. These simple metaphors are touchstones for Schmaltz's broad exploration of what makes projects meaningful. Schmaltz sheds light on the dark matter of project management -- the stuff that blocks us from succeeding on projects as individuals and as teams. He even leads us through the panicked self-talk that runs through a manager's head at the start of a project. With rich writing that's rare in management books, Schmaltz gives us a 360-degree view of project management itself -- project management is this book's invisible elephant. The elephant emerges.

You won't find any worksheets, diagrams, flow charts, procedures, instructions, or textbook problems in this book. Schmaltz gives us something more valuable and memorable: fresh ways to think about how we approach and manage projects. For example, managers should encourage each person to find a personal project within each project, something personally "juicy" to sustain interest and make the effort valuable. Going beyond the stated objectives of a project, each of us needs to ask ourself, "What do you want?" -- and to keep asking that until our personal goals emerge. These goals don't compete with the team's purpose -- they bind us to the project's success. This is the process of what Schmaltz calls "finding your wall."

Just as managers should encourage this kind of buy-in rather than try to externally motivate a team, managers should not impose a prefabricated structure onto a team. Schmaltz argues that when people find a personally juicy goal within a project, they will strive to organize their efforts in an efficient, organic manner -- without taking that twenty-volume project methodology off the shelf.

On a person-to-person level, Schmaltz asserts that despite the risk of getting cheated by snake-like deceivers, project members are most wise to interpret people's actions generously, assuming the best and freely offering trust and help. Using the results of a computer programming competition in which the Prisoner's Dilemma was solved by having the imprisoned conspirators refuse to implicate each other, Schmaltz shows that offering trust as a first principle can lead to bigger win-wins, more often.

Schmaltz consults on high-tech projects through his firm, True North project guidance strategies, based in Walla Walla, Washington. He hosts the Heretic's Forum, a Web space designed to "capture dangerously sane ideas." In addition to his periodic newsletter, Compass, he has published one previous book, This Isn't a Cookbook.

That invisible elephant, the powerful analogy at the center of this book, will enrich the way you approach new projects and reconsider problems -- especially the parts of problems that remain invisible to you on current projects. As Schmaltz wishes in a sort of benediction, "May this elephant emerge whenever you engage."

Reviewer David McClintock is president of Wordsupply.com. You can purchase The Blind Men and the Elephant: Mastering Project Work from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

Re:In case of /.ing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631272)

Score:1, Informative?
This should be funny, I think.

Re:In case of /.ing (0, Offtopic)

dillon_rinker (17944) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631287)

The post itself isn't all that amusing - but the fact that it's currently moderated to +1 informative is +23 HILARIOUS.

Hate speech is a war crime (-1, Offtopic)

October_30th (531777) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631187)

Excellent news [washingtontimes.com] .

If anything I want our governments to crack down on nazis.

Re:Hate speech is a war crime (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631558)

If anything I want our governments to crack down on nazis.

We'll miss you then.

Elements of Style (2, Interesting)

musingmelpomene (703985) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631203)

Reviewers, please read it. Never use a fifty-cent word when a nickel word will do. This review reads like a bad example of a meaningless corporate business plan. Using the biggest possible word in all possible cases doesn't make you look smart, it just makes you look boring.

Re:Elements of Style (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631266)

Unfortunately, I find myself unable to concur with your assessment of the situation. Multiple experiences have proven, through countless repetition, that one half of one dollar often nets one a carbonated, caffeinated beverage, whereas one twentieth of the standard US medium of exchange merely nets one a single usage of chewable, resilient, sugary substance known as "Bazooka".

Re:Elements of Style (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631315)

But you forgot to mention that in the scope of a person-to-person dynamic snake-enabled relationship, the skills of quality control are basically a win-win situation.

"He fucked her good!"

Re:Elements of Style (1)

lukewarmfusion (726141) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631452)

OT, perhaps...

I'm not sure if you're criticizing the use of lengthy words in general, or if you're saying that it was (in this particular case) too confusing to understand because of the vocabulary. I usually avoid big words for the sake of big words (read almost any academic journal). Sometimes, though, you can say something with one big word better than ten smaller words. (Poster is president of Wordsupply.com, after all).

As for the post itself, I'm in the middle of researching project management and preparing to build a custom project management system. This book sounds like it could help with the overall strategy we'd like to define before building... it's tempting to identify smaller tasks and build those (only to try and assemble them later).

Re:Elements of Style (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631517)

Using big words make me feel neat. Ergo, some of my comments you will understand and some you will not. Concordantly, while your response might be the most pertitent, it is also the most irrelevant.

Vis-a-vis, you are an idiot.

Re:Elements of Style (2, Insightful)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631577)

Never use a fifty-cent word when a nickel word will do.

Care to cite a passage of such? The biggest word I saw in the review was "prefabricated", and that's hardly a word that's cumbersome to the intended geeky audience.

Re:Elements of Style (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631620)

Your slashdot nickname is quite a long word either, isn't it?

Re:Elements of Style (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7632259)

Strunk and White's admonition is not against "big" words in general. It is against flowery language used when "a nickel word will do." Sometimes a "big" word is more precise and conveys more meaning than a smaller word. That's why they are there. The Elements of Style is about improving communication. By that standard, I find the article to be clear and informative. I think your objections are unfounded.

Sorry (3, Funny)

flynt (248848) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631209)

I'm sorry, if my teammates are groping, I'm quitting.

Re:Sorry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631563)

Unless my teammate is Natalie Portman, thenI work over time, for no charge

Re:Sorry (1)

Schwartzboy (653985) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631772)

I'm sorry, if my teammates are groping, I'm quitting.

I am one of two males on a team of over a dozen. The other male is my boss, generally thought of as "the boss" rather than as a teammate, and my cow-orkers are pretty much all in the "hi I'm fresh out of college and my name is Bambi wanna see my old sorority house photos?" stage. Don't tell my boss this, but if my teammates are groping, I'll stay on and work more or less for free.

For a reasonable $699 license fee, I'll generously give the whole /. crew access to the website I will register shortly after the teammate groping begins.

This is not surprising (4, Insightful)

heironymouscoward (683461) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631210)

All human problem solving (especially the male approach) tends to be a exercise in discovery, generally done by making an approximate solution, testing it against the reality of use, then refining this until it's "good". Different people have different skills in this regard, some are good at overall designs, some at details.

And the corollary is... (0, Flamebait)

heironymouscoward (683461) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631259)

Since everyone is going to ask, the female approach is to exchange opinions about the elephant's skin texture, color, smell, etc. until the elephant falls asleep from boredom, upon which point the women can drape the elephant in colorful cloth and decorate it tastefully.

OK, all three female Slashdotters can flame me at once now. I'm ready...

Re:And the corollary is... (1)

B3ryllium (571199) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631410)

In my opinion, purple cloth coverings with some nice throw-pillows is the best theme for an elephant. Just ask Frank from Trading Spaces, he'll agree.

(As a sidenote, I almost made the funniest typo ever; "Tarding Spaces" ... now I want to create a tv show around it.)

Re:And the corollary is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631537)

But elephants are so cute in pink! With little gold studs in their ears. Tarding Scapes is actually a small town in Yorkshire, not many people know it. About 11 miles north-west from Goatsbottom.

Re:And the corollary is... (1)

kid-noodle (669957) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631712)

Yes, you do realise now if I ever see that show I'll be thinking "Tarding spaces? What the hell kindof program is that??".

Punk.

Re:This is not surprising (1)

kid-noodle (669957) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631656)

Soooo...

Some people can figure out the overall shape, and the other two can deal with the wrinkles?

I like this metaphor..

And a second collorary is... (4, Interesting)

heironymouscoward (683461) | more than 10 years ago | (#7632101)

(And this is quite important, so please don't flame me for being politically incorrect or whatever)...

Men tend to solve problems in this way, defining approximate solutions, slicing the problem into pieces and delegating the smaller tasks, focussing relentlessly on technical details, until the elephant has been hunted, killed, skinned, chopped, carried back, eaten, and the fat melted down into candle wax.

Women tend to solve problems by exchanging points of view and information, and arriving at approximate solutions by averaging the solutions they have learned about.

The difference is crystal clear: technical problems cannot be solved by "averages", social problems cannot be solved by "analysis" (unless you're a genius for understanding people).

Of course there are many man who think like women, and vice versa. Gender roles are not iron-clad, they are poles to which people stick more or less.

Both types of problem-solving skill are necessary in solving real-world problems, which are as often social as physical. I.e. if it's a real elephant you're hunting, it's a man's job. If you're constructing a new house, you really need to have a lot of discussion first.

Well-organized teams therefore mix women and men not because they are equal and equivalent (we are not), but because we're complementary.

I don't know about you guys... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631213)

but my "project" is standing in a room, waiting to be groped.

Ugh (4, Funny)

GuyMannDude (574364) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631223)

It's standing in a room, waiting to be revealed by a group of groping teammates.

Honestly, I don't really want to picture a bunch of geeks 'groping' around trying to 'reveal' something.

GMD

Re:Ugh (1)

bluethundr (562578) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631311)

Honestly, I don't really want to picture a bunch of geeks 'groping' around trying to 'reveal' something.

Yeah, same here. Sounds a little bit too much like a furry convention [coolfreepages.com] for my tastes.

Re:Ugh-Feelings (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631436)

Thoughts for the day

DAMN someone has cold hands!
or
Watch were you put those!
or
Who signed me up for this sensitivity training?
or
Is it bigger than a breadbox?
or
Wrinkle cream. Lots of wrinkle cream.
or
Help! Help! Somethings got me!

Re:Ugh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631503)

"I found it! I found the elephant! How come his trunk is so small?"

Groping Teammates? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631227)


Simply put, Schmaltz is saying that your project is an invisible elephant. It's standing in a room, waiting to be revealed by a group of groping teammates


Yeah, but how many teams can ge the Governor of California to participate?

Re:Groping Teammates? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631511)

Der Gropenfuhror!

AHAHA... Amerikaner und ihre dummen Fuhrer.

i have a story with a moral too (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631235)

Pleasures of the Throne
There was once an island kingdom whose people were all fabulously wealthy. Even though they could have afforded to live anywhere they wanted, tradition dictated they stay on their tiny island home.

Eventually, their king became frustrated and called a meeting of the tribe's elders. He said he wanted them to figure out a way he could enjoy his wealth, and stay within traditional guide lines. After much consideration, the elders suggested he build a magnificent throne. When he objected there was not enough room in his hut for a throne, the elders suggested he call in an engineer to solve the problem (a mistake most certainly).

Soon, the king's tiny hut was rigged with an elaborate system of ropes and pulleys. He could lower the huge throne for use during the day, and at night, he could haul the throne up, and lower his bed.

This was truly the best of both worlds for the king. Unfortunately, after a few months of constant use the ropes frayed, and one night, the throne slipped and came crashing down on the king, killing him.

The wisemen of the island recognized a lesson in this experience and added to the lore of their people this statement: "People who live in grass houses should not store thrones."

Re:i have a story with a moral too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631307)

Would someone mind pointing out the moral to that story? The best I got was the literal moral, and since I have no thrones I ought to be fine.

it's a pun MOD UP PLEASE!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631479)

People in glass houses should not throw stones :)) :))

MOD GRANDPARENT UP!!!

Re:i have a story with a moral too (1)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631544)

Maybe I can illuminate the situation. In my tribe, we tell the following story:

"Once upon a time, three friars decided to open a floral business. Everything went well for a time, but as things progressed, the other florists in the town got tired of the men of God stealing business from them. So, one day, the local Rotary club hired the local blacksmith, Hugh, to run the friars out of town. Which he did. With extreme prejudice.

The moral of the story, of course is Hugh, and only Hugh can prevent florist friars"

Of course, my clan are notorious sterno drinkers, so that might have something to do with it. I hope you find this little anecdote to be enlightening.

Re:i have a story with a moral too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631501)

Great Story!
This should be modded up though.

thank you very much (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631633)

good to know somebody appreciates punny stories...apparently the moderators dont

Re:i have a story with a moral too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7632274)

i heard a similar (or as they say in Indiana, simular) one that had the islanders coveting thrones (terlets) and storing them in the rafters of their huts. when a storm came thru and the thrones fell on the inhabitants, they came up with "People in grass houses should not stow thrones."

elephant analogies (4, Insightful)

Savatte (111615) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631260)

Schmaltz is saying that your project is an invisible elephant. It's standing in a room, waiting to be revealed by a group of groping teammates

I thought the analogy was that each blind man felt a different part of the elephant and they couldn't reach a consensus on what it was, since all the parts felt different.

a different elephant analogy is that there is an elephant (a large problem) in the room that no one wants to acknowledge, so that no one has to deal with it.

The Blind Elephant Meaning/Problem (3, Insightful)

magicalyak (591713) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631429)

The blind elephant analogy has often been used as a proof for different interpretations of God. One blind man grabs a tail and says this is what an elephant is. Anothing holding the trunk say "You have it all wrong, this is the way it is". Yet another holding the tusk says "You are both wrong, it feels like this". Finally, the Rajah (Indian Price) comes out and asks what the fuss is about. He tells the blind men they are all correct, they just need to put together what they have and they can have a sense of what an elephant is. This also implies that one may possible never fully know what an elephant is. To try to relate by babbling. The elephant (the collaborative project) can never be fully grasped and only through enlightenment or a guru, can we know the truth about the elephant (the collaborative project). This kind of smells like a 90s dot-com theory to me (but then maybe I only have a piece of the elephant! what do I know?) Of course, this analogy is a bit flawed anyway. It assumes there is an elephant (is there really a collaborative project, or do you just pretend there is like George Castanza?). And furthermore, it assumes you can somehow know the whole elephant, or at least know that the elephant is more than you know. This begs the question of how you can know that! Bad analogy, bad application....I don't know about the book, but so far, no good. I'm going to go back to my imaginary elephant (my project at work) because even though it's not real, maybe it will be if I just work hard enough.

Re:elephant analogies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631496)

I thought the analogy was that each blind man felt a different part of the elephant and they couldn't reach a consensus on what it was, since all the parts felt different.

Please be the trunk...please be the trunk...

Re:elephant analogies (1)

dws (197076) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631530)

The large problem that nobody wants to acknowledge is also referred to as "the dead skunk on the table". That analogy has the benefit (?) of adding one more sense to the mix.

Re:elephant analogies (1)

GospelHead821 (466923) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631567)

I think you're right about the analogy, but I think that it still applies as the author seems to have applied it. From a non-blind perspective, we can see that each of the blind men really is perceiving the same thing. In the same way, each member of a development team is perceiving the same project. However, each of them may disagree about what the project really is. In that situation, it is important for the manager to provide the members with enough information to unify their perceptions, so that even though they only have contact with a small portion of the project, themselves, they have some understanding of that part's importance to the whole.

Proper analogy (1)

2nd Post! (213333) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631705)

Indeed, you are correct, the story is that each of the 6 men come to a different conclusion.

The analogy works because the problem is the product is the elephant. Each developer cannot see the entire problem, product, or elephant, and must focus on their aspect of the problem, product, and elephant.

The idea is that with some sort of strategy and baseplan, a room full of developers can come out of the project with a single conclusion: An elephant, a product, and solution.

You are like me. (1)

a!b!c! (137622) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631261)

You see an incredibly stupid slashdot story, and you can't resist clicking on it. Maybe its your natural vulture instinct to look for the weak stories and pounce all over them.

But are you able to avoid posting? Or is simply shouting "WTF!" enough for you?

Poem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631278)

Here:
http://www.wordfocus.com/word-act-blindmen. html
I don't know how to make a link

It all makes sense now (2, Funny)

segment (695309) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631296)

That invisible elephant, the powerful analogy at the center of this book, will enrich the way you approach new projects and reconsider problems -- especially the parts of problems that remain invisible to you on current projects.

It's this invisible elephant I will now use and cherish when I don't get my work done. I will not gleefully explain to my CTO when he asks about why routers bork, and systems go down, that - this invisible elephant sir, you don't understand. I don't think you cherish the value of dumping a high salary in my hands without trusting my judgment, and I sir believe in invisible elephants... Now about that raise

Nice, but how about some concrete answers (4, Informative)

1ns4n3c4rb0nb4s3dl1f (729658) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631323)

Sure, it's nice to think about a book that you "don't need charts or diagrams" for, but for practical help with project management, there's the old standby, Fredrick P. Brooks The Mythical Man Month [amazon.com] . That book alone has been the most helpful thing to me at my current job in managing projects, requirements, and all that. This book about an "invisible elephant" may have a cute analogy, but The Mythical Man Month will actually help you out.

Plus, you can probably dig up a used copy of it for super cheap, as appossed to lining some hack author's pockets.

Re:Nice, but how about some concrete answers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631926)

Peopleware is also a good book.

So rely only on the classics? (1)

Dirk Pitt (90561) | more than 10 years ago | (#7632116)

Wow, so we have nowhere to go in terms of evolving software development methodologies? Brooks would be disappointed.

Saying this book is only about a "cute 'invisible elephant'" analogy is like saying that The Mythical Man Month takes 300 pages to only say that there is no silver bullet for the problems of the dev cycle. My hope would be that newer books derive common ideas from the foundations of modern software engineering, like Brooks' works. Keep an open mind.

His name is Schmaltz (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631327)

I'd just like to point out that's seasoned chicken fat in Yiddish. I hope the book's better...

Re:His name is Schmaltz (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631541)

Mmmmmm, seasoned chicken fat...
*hangs mouth open and drools*

And (1)

cubicledrone (681598) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631343)

your project is an invisible elephant. It's standing in a room, waiting to be revealed by a group of groping teammates

And people still wonder why programmers all get fired and replaced with marketing people.

the poem (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631348)

The Blind Men and the Elephant
by John Godfrey Saxe

American poet John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) based the following poem on a fable which was told in India many years ago.

It was six men of Indostan / To learning much inclined, / Who went to see the Elephant / (Though all of them were blind), / That each by observation / Might satisfy his mind

The First approached the Elephant, / And happening to fall / Against his broad and sturdy side, / At once began to bawl: / "God bless me! but the Elephant / Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk, / Cried, "Ho! what have we here / So very round and smooth and sharp? / To me 'tis mighty clear / This wonder of an Elephant / Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal, / And happening to take / The squirming trunk within his hands, / Thus boldly up and spake: / "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant / Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand, / And felt about the knee. / "What most this wondrous beast is like / Is mighty plain," quoth he; / " 'Tis clear enough the Elephant / Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, / Said: "E'en the blindest man / Can tell what this resembles most; / Deny the fact who can / This marvel of an Elephant / Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun / About the beast to grope, / Than, seizing on the swinging tail / That fell within his scope, / "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant / Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan / Neo dies / Disputed loud and long, / So does Trinity / Each in his own Neo dies opinion / Exceeding stiff and strong, / Though each was partly so does Trinity in the right, / And all were in the wrong!

Moral:

So oft in theologic wars, / The disputants, I ween, / Rail on in utter ignorance / Of what each other mean, / And prate about an Elephant / Not one of them has seen!

Re:the poem (1)

smack_attack (171144) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631568)

So the next time someone searches google for this poem, they are going to have to weed through 50 entries of this book for sale. That sucks.

Re:the poem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631584)

Asshole! You ruined the Matrix Revolitions for me! hahha

Re:the poem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631667)

Formatted more reasonably. Also, parent has a Revolutions spoiler in it before the moral.

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk
Cried, "Ho! what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me `tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up he spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope.
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

Moral:

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

Lameness filter doesn't like my line length. Therefore, this line has been added to increase it.

Is this what the customer really wants? (4, Insightful)

jea6 (117959) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631360)

In my experience, the customer wanted an elephant (probably because a Fortune article said elephant). They could be quite successful - and more profitable - without the elephant. But the sales guys told them that we know elephants like mad (when, in fact, the developers have only seen elephants from far away - really far away).

Anyhow, the developers keep insisting that the elephant is untenable and deadlines slip. Instead we roll out a beta elephant (which is really just a pile of dung molded to look like an elephant) and ask the client for feedback.

Naturally, the client has no buy in from the folks who are going to be using the elephant, so the change requests start pouring in until, budget exhausted, half the developers have been laid-off. At this point, the pile of dung does not look like an elephant but the client has spent so much money that, ala Emperors New Clothes, everybody marvels at what a great elephant it is. QED.

Re:Is this what the customer really wants? (1)

B3ryllium (571199) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631460)

Genius. This totally explains the Telus [telus.com] organization.

"Have you shipped my ADSL modem yet?"
"I'm sorry, our system doesn't give us that information."

What kind of ordering/shipping system DOESN'T SAY WHEN THINGS HAVE BEEN SHIPPED, for CHRISSAKES!?!?!?!

Re:Is this what the customer really wants? (3, Insightful)

Angry Toad (314562) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631686)

Well put.

I find it interesting that there are so many hostile responses to this book and/or review thus far. That more or less lets me know where most slashdotters are on the corporate totem pole. As I've recently started doing a great deal of project management work myself, many of the topics mentioned in the review that seem "fuzzy" or "stupid" merely reflect meta-generalizations about concepts and interactions that just don't enter into the strictly goal-oriented world of the people being managed.

Let me put that in a less obscure way: the day-to-day skills involved in molding order out of chaos when you're trying to get ten different people to achieve ten different but integrated goals, while simultaneously fielding nonsense requests from above and money strangulation from the side, are just not the same challenges that most people face. Hence talking about them sounds a great deal like mumbo-jumbo.

Or something like that.

Re:Is this what the customer really wants? (2, Insightful)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 10 years ago | (#7632006)

"meta-generalizations"?

Yes, I do believe you are a project manager. How many times this week have you told the customer, "yes, we can do that" before checking with the boys to see if it's actually possible?

Men are from Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631408)

Another of those American books where one look at the title means you don't need to read the book.

Feel Good (5, Insightful)

theGreater (596196) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631409)

I do, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside now. But how exactly does all of this apply to my day-to-day? I'm not sure when it started, but recently there seems to be a proliferation of Commanders of the Obvious who disguise their barely-adequate theories behind some sort of happy analogy. "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" maps roughly to "Boy != Girl". How is it possible that these charlatans continue to prosper? Is it possible that the public is so overly entertained and intellecutally starved that these sort of things are revealations to them?

-theGreater Ranter.

Even without RTFA... (4, Funny)

Soko (17987) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631440)

I can glean one of the universal truths from this article.

If the project is going to father other projects - start other issues and then wanders off leaving you to "take care of them", it is a male. You can then be assured that there's a prick and a couple of nuts on the project team.

If it creates more projects inside itself that it must nurture along until they take on a life of thier own, it is female. There's going to be a cunt and at leats a couple of dumb tits working on it.

In either case, however, there is always an asshole.

Soko

TO America: (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631467)

God Bless America

God Bless America , with the worst crime levels in the first world
God Bless America , where "democracy" means a rich, white male as Presiden t
God Bless America , the biggest consumer of the world's natural resources
God Bless America , where "freedom of speech" means race-hate groups like KKK
God Bless America , and its massive and ever-growing poverty gap
God Bless America , with the highest obesity levels in the developed world
God Bless America , all its appalling "sitcoms" with no grasp of irony
God Bless America , because corporations should be allowed to run amok
God Bless America , wasting billions to attack foreign countries

God Bless America , and thank God I don't have to live there.

Re:TO America: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631707)

Ausgezeichneter Kamerad! Jetzt gekommen lassen Sie uns haben irgendeinen Sieggin und -lachen an den unglaubigen Amerikanern! Die Amerikaner entscheiden, in unsere kommunistischen Weisen umzuwandeln bald genug

A review of the reviewer (-1, Troll)

Celandro (595953) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631480)

If this review was a project elephant, the reviewer is hoping we all grope and pull at his big word penis. This thread is proof that even project elephant reviews practice self ejaculation.

My dream last night... (1)

strictnein (318940) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631484)

standing in a room, waiting to be revealed by a group of groping teammates

Very very similar to that...

The analogy doesn't hold (4, Insightful)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631519)

Unlike the blind men, the programmers on a given project know what the finished product is supposed to be.

If you know you're building an elephant, and someone hands you the tail...you're not going to think the whole thing looks like a snake. Sorry.

This strikes me as nothing more than a cutesey metaphor laden book for your PHB.

Weaselmancer

The analogy does hold (2, Insightful)

tds67 (670584) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631812)

Unlike the blind men, the programmers on a given project know what the finished product is supposed to be.

Maybe not. There are probably hotshot programmers out there who might decide to put wheels on the elephant instead of legs, just to soup things up a bit.

After all, if you can assemble an elephant Lego(TM) style, you shouldn't be limited to just legs, right?

Shameless Karma groping (2, Informative)

eclectro (227083) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631521)

Here is the poem;

The Blind Men and the Elephant
John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he:
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

DMCA3 Copyright Violation! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631689)

Posting the poem is a violation of the 2004 DMCA-3 Act, extending copyright to life + 300 years for individuals, and infinity - 100 years for corporations, and automatically assigning previously copyright-expired works to Disney. Please send your $25,000,000,000 fine and settlement to the Walt Disney Company, C/O Michael Eisner.

Redundant analogy (1)

messerman (446251) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631529)

I just find it amusing that their are both blind folks and invisible elephants in the analogy. Seems to me just blind or invisible would have done by itself.

Not originally Saxe's by a long shot (4, Informative)

Prien715 (251944) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631566)

The poem may be Saxe's but story itself is much older than that. It originates from Indian philosophy and illustrates the doctrine of Anekanta or many sidedness of reality. The doctrine itself is essential to Jainism but many scholars are unsure whether it has Jain or Buddhist roots. For a copy of the original story (much older than the 19th century) go here [newphysics2000.org]

more reviews of this book (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631585)

VeryGeekyBooks [verygeekybooks.com] has more reviews of this book.

More of the same spam... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7632301)

...as usual, courtesy of Slashdot's resident Amazon-whore.

Talk about a tangled up analogy (1)

revery (456516) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631591)

Maybe it's just me, but so far this book's premise makes almost no sense:

I can get the part of comparing employees to blind men, and I can follow that we're trying to understand something [the project] that we can't see, but the project is an elephant?? And what's more, it's not important that it's an elephant, but that we improperly deduce what it is in exactly the same way as six Indian blind men... (a fan, a spear, a snake, a wall, etc)

What really worries me now that I've heard the concept though, is what if my project isn't an invisible elephant? What if my project is an invisible gopher, or a snake or a beaver?

Dear God, what if my project isn't an invisible animal at all? What if it's an invisible turkey baster... or an invisible lime green Edsel, or a very visible maytag washer unit... or Bob in accounting?

I may be on to something.

I gotta call my boss... and then... I gotta write a book. Maybe someone on Slashdot will review it...

--

Was it the sheep climbing onto the altar, or the cattle lowing to be slain,
or the Son of God hanging dead and bloodied on a cross that told me this was a world condemned, but loved and bought with blood.

Talk about a tangled up analogy-Colorblind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631891)

Your elephant is white...and obese.

talk about sophsitry... (1)

motorsabbath (243336) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631625)

schmaltz ( also schmalz ) (shmalts)
n.
1) Informal.
Excessively sentimental art or music.

2) Maudlin sentimentality.

3)Liquid fat, especially chicken fat.

Re:talk about sophsitry... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631655)

we can assume sophsitry == sophistry

I'd rather shoot the elephant... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631632)

...and the blind man before I'd manage a project that was bigger than myself.

The Sculptor and the Elephant (1)

Roadkills-R-Us (122219) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631641)

I prefer the metaphor of a sculptor.

``How do you make an elephant from a big rock?''
``You just chisel away everything of the rock that doesn't look like an elephant.''

I usually start with a rock of old COBOL or sphagetti FORTRAN 66, and just chisel away everything that doesn't look like C code or Java or whatever.

We don't always get all (or any) of teh desired features, but we *do* end up with *very* small programs.

Sculpture and Caves (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7631673)

My solo projects are sculpture, it's carved from a clean vision. Nothing quite like being knee deep in bit dust.

Doing mantainance on others code is like spelunking. You drop-in, only seeing what your looking at for a while. Eventually you build a mental map and get to know your way around. Sometimes you only get to see part of the cave... I never try too hard to "imagine" the rest of the cave! Perhaps someone will tell you a bit about it or give you the general layout... Of course having a bright headlamp helps. Fusion powered works good for me!. Gawking just ain't what it used to be ;)

Continuing the analogy further.... (2, Funny)

MagicDude (727944) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631702)

Sometime though, a programmer will grope the wrong part of the elephant. It'll get startled, kick two of the programmers, and charge through the wall, destroying the building. Then zoologists in the realworld will hear that a pre-release elephant is on the loose and try and get pictures of it. Then the zoo postpones releasing Grey Elephant 1.0 since everyone has seen it, and says it will come a few months later after they've made the elephant pink and can fly.

A room of groping team mates... (1)

mikehunt (225807) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631709)

Look, I'm sorry, but if it's OK with you, I've had enough groping team mates, not to mention one manager.

Wilderness Exploration (2, Informative)

Morris Schneiderman (132974) | more than 10 years ago | (#7631930)

The bit about encouraging each person on the team to find something in the project that really motivates him or her, really makes sense.

But other than that, the concept of a bunch of people trying to 'reveal the elephant' through individual efforts is probably why so many projects fail or produce sub-optimal results.

Projects vary in many ways. The most significant is often Uncertainty. Towards one end of the continuum we have the Recipe Book project:- "We've done something very similar before - we have the recipe and we know how to follow it". Towards the other end, we have the Wilderness Exploration project:- "We have an idea of where we want to end up, but we really don't know how we will get there, how long the journey will take, nor what adventures may arise on the way."

There are a host of skills and techniques that can help in such situations. One of the most applicable general methodologies that I've learned is the Canadain Method. It was first introduced (so far as I know) to capture Vimy Ridge in World War One. The capture took one day and cost the Canadians 3,500 fatalities and 7,000 wounded. British and French efforts had previously cost over 200,000 lives and produced no significant results during two years.

Twenty plus years of leading projects has given me considerable insight into "The Art and Science of Making the Future Happen."

If you want to read the first chapter of the distillation of this experience, you can find it at: http://www.ProjectsDoneRight.com/pdr/pdrBook.asp [projectsdoneright.com]

There is no elephant... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7632034)

There is no elephant...EOM

Similar to Peopleware? (1)

abischof (255) | more than 10 years ago | (#7632173)

For anyone who's read it, is this book similar to Tom DeMarco & Timothy Lister's Peopleware [bestwebbuys.com] ? I really appreciated their keen understanding of the development process in that book and I'm always looking for additional books along those lines. (See also these quotes [debugged.de] from some of the authors and this Joel on Software review [joelonsoftware.com] to get a feel for the book.)

Six blind elephants and the man (1)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 10 years ago | (#7632192)

One day six wise, blind elephants were discussing what humans were like. Failing to agree, they decided to determine what humans were like by direct experience.

The first wise, blind elephant felt the human, and declared, "Humans are flat."

The other wise, blind elephants, after similarly feeling the human, agreed.
Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Sign up for Slashdot Newsletters
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...