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The Blind Men and the Elephant 136

Posted by timothy
from the don't-bury-your-arm-in-it dept.
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.
The Blind Men and the Elephant: Mastering Project Work
author David A. Schmaltz
pages 160
publisher Berrett-Koehler
rating 10
reviewer David McClintock
ISBN 1576752534
summary With a powerful central metaphor, Schmaltz shows how to make your collaborative projects personally rewarding.

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.

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The Blind Men and the Elephant

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  • 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.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      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".
    • 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 pr
    • 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.


    • Your post is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of Slashdot. You are the eventuality of an anomaly, which despite my sincerest efforts I have been unable to eliminate from what is otherwise a harmony of mathematical precision. While it remains a burden to sedulously avoid it, it is not unexpected, and thus not beyond a measure of control. Which has led you, inexorably, here.

      Ha! =P

    • Eschew obfuscation.
  • Sorry (Score:4, Funny)

    by flynt (248848) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @02:02PM (#7631209)
    I'm sorry, if my teammates are groping, I'm quitting.
    • Not me. I like a good groping now and then.
    • 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 /.
    • That sounds like Gov. Arnold'a project management style of choice.
  • by heironymouscoward (683461) <heironymouscoward@@@yahoo...com> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @02:02PM (#7631210) Journal
    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.
    • 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...
      • 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.)
    • Soooo...

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

      I like this metaphor..
      • Yes, that is precisely what is being said.

        By analogy, it would take two blind people to survey the surface skin of an elephant, and then two other men to explore the functionality and limitations of its genitalia. It would take the remaining two men to successfully handle the wrinkles of the situation in such a way that they could harvest the productions of the elephant's workflow.

        In short, Zoology is a fascinating area of fascination. And I truly believe that the analogous contents of its correlation t

    • by heironymouscoward (683461) <heironymouscoward@@@yahoo...com> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @03:05PM (#7632101) Journal
      (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.
      • As you said, lots of Men think the way women do - so why categorize the styles of thinking in terms of sexes and not in terms of the thought patterns?

        It does no good to mix women and men on a project if all you get are people that think the same. The best idea is to mix a number of different styles on a projectt, even if that means all men or all women.

        Personally I find the Meyers-Briggs definition for personality types to be pretty accurate - many companies have employees take this test to "learn how to
        • why categorize the styles of thinking in terms of sexes...

          Because it's simple and accurate and honest. Personality differences are not random or accidental, people are adapted to working in social teams of various kinds and the primary factor deciding what "role" someone will take is gender.

          Since most teams are not built by psychologists, and most people are more complex than it is possible to pinpoint with a "category", profiling people with psychological tests prior to placing them in teams simply doe
  • Ugh (Score:5, Funny)

    by GuyMannDude (574364) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @02:03PM (#7631223) Journal

    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

    • 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.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      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!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    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?
  • elephant analogies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Savatte (111615) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @02:06PM (#7631260) Homepage Journal
    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 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 sen
      • I happened to read the book. I think, if you do, you'll be pleasantly surprised to see your point made and very well illustrated. The point, as I read it, is not to try to grasp the whole elephant but to work together in a way that you can integrate all of the other strange stories with your own so you can experience a 'sense' of a coherent whole. Even though none of you will ever fully grasp the whole. Every challenging project I've ever been involved with involved a whole crew of strange and wonderful
    • 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.
    • 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 th
    • 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 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?
  • Another review (Score:2, Informative)

    by armando_wall3 (728889)

    Here's another review [niwotridge.com] on this book.

  • by segment (695309) <sil@politr i x . o rg> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @02:09PM (#7631296) Homepage Journal
    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

  • by 1ns4n3c4rb0nb4s3dl1f (729658) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @02:12PM (#7631323) Journal
    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.
    • 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.

  • 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.
  • by jea6 (117959) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @02:15PM (#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.
    • 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!?!?!?!
    • by Angry Toad (314562) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @02:41PM (#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.

      • "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?

        • Actually, just for the record, I manage a major scientific project. Making unachievable promises in my case is a perk of being one of the money-men and industry-liason types above me.

          However, many of the concepts that are commonly thrown about in project management are meaningful and useful, even though they sound like crap upon first hearing them. I defend my use of the prefix "meta" - there are organizational skill sets which can be applied to a variety of project structures, regardless of the actua

  • Amazon has it for $13.27 [amazon.com]

    Seriously, what a worthless review. It's all fluff and puff, and no actual substance. Next time, try reviewing a book that doesn't talk about "invisible" garbage.

  • Feel Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by theGreater (596196) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @02:19PM (#7631409) Homepage
    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.
    • Re:Feel Good (Score:2, Interesting)

      You may be even more right than you think.

      Recently, it was found that the author of "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus" is a fraud. The guys has no degree in psychology, though he still calls himself a PhD (only thing remotely close is an honorary degree from somewhere where he gave a speech - but they don't have a graduate program).

      The author for this book seems to be cut from the same cloth. Calls himself an "expert" but has nothing to back up that claim except for that he teaches it.

      Hmmm.... I t
    • by Afty0r (263037) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @05:55PM (#7633852) Homepage
      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".

      Have you even read this book? It's one of the greatest modern day studies of the differences between the sexes, and has helped millions of people understand their friends and partners better. This book has incredible value - it's even helped to get people I know laid. Just because something is obvious, does not mean that the techniques used to deal with it are obvious.

      War is bad... *obviously* but dealing with it, and understanding it are two of the hardest takes humanity will face.
      • The Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus merely perpetuates sexist stereotypes that seem to permeate society. It does nothing to bring about change. It is a regressive book that solves nothing. Perhaps the time spent reading such a book could better be spent talking with one's partner.

        The book (and all the other clone works it spawned) is even more galling because so many stupid Sleepers out there read it and believe it more-or-less unquestioningly. Oh, that's what Bob is thinking? Why didn't I know tha
  • by Soko (17987) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @02:22PM (#7631440) Homepage
    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
  • standing in a room, waiting to be revealed by a group of groping teammates

    Very very similar to that...
  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @02:27PM (#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

    • by tds67 (670584)
      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?

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

      Ha-ha, you're funny. Pull the other one :)
    • Show me a project where every developer knows how every aspect of the product will be implemented and I'll show you a project so small it barely needs a project manager at all. Besides which, the finished product is not an invisible elephant, the project is. Show me a project where every developer understands how every aspect of the project is going to be executed and I'll show you a project with only one developer.
    • Or, you could read and comprehend just a bit and realize that he's saying there are many different components in a large project and the members of the programming team should be free to latch on to parts they find interesting, rather than having a manager tell each one of them what to do and hardly anobody enjoying the part their working on.

      Sometimes, trying to comprehend how some comments get modded up to +4 or +5 here on /. really makes my brain hurt. It's like someone goes trolling and people come al

  • by eclectro (227083)
    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
    • I had never seen the original version that you quoted, but I did come across this once and kept a copy:

      Once upon a time, there were five blind men who had the opportunity to experience an elephant for the first time. One approached the elephant, and, upon encountering one of its sturdy legs, stated, "Ah, an elephant is like a tree." The second, after exploring the trunk, said, "No, an elephant is like a strong hose." The third, grasping the tail, said "Fool! An elephant is like a rope!" The fourth, h

    • You left out the most relevant verse for application to the conversation here.

      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.

      The comments here, commenting on a review of a book that, it seems, not one of the reviewers has seen, only proves the point of this verse.
  • 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.
  • by Prien715 (251944) <agnosticpope@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @02:31PM (#7631566) Journal
    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]
    • So India is now outsourcing their analogies to us? I, for one, welcome our analogy-outsourcing wage-undercutting overlords!
  • 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
  • schmaltz ( also schmalz ) (shmalts)
    n.
    1) Informal.
    Excessively sentimental art or music.

    2) Maudlin sentimentality.

    3)Liquid fat, especially chicken fat.

  • 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 (Score:1, Interesting)

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


  • what a picture [riken.go.jp] of an invisible elephant looks like.

    Thanks google image search!
  • I've been standing behind the elephant!
  • 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.)
    • The guy who wrote the review, David McClintock, happens to be with Dorset House publishing -- who publishes DeMarco and Lister's books. Schmaltz also happens to be a member in good standing of the community of folks that have worked closely with one of the grand old men of Software Development, Jerry Weinberg. This community, of course, includes DeMarco and Lister. So, yes, I'd say this book has similarities to Peopleware. You might disagree.
  • 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.
  • I've got an account exec that needs this book.

    Only she's taken the story and placed the six blind men in six different rooms, they don't know about each other, and only gives the information she feels each blind man needs to know.

    Now build that elephant!

    Micro managing noncommunicative hag that she is!

    Sometimes she'll pass out the same project to two people just to see which one finishes it first. Nothing like duplication of work!

    -Goran
  • I don't think I want anything to do with this.
  • The 13th century Persian Sufi poet Jalal al-Din Rumi was the original author of the poem-parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant in the form which is most widely known. It occurs in his massive and delightful Mathnawi (Persian pronuciation: Masnevi.) Previously it appeared in a different form in the influential scholar/Sufi/theologian/philosopher Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazzali's (d. 1111) compendium the Ihya `Ulum al-Din (The Revivification of the Religious Sciences). The ultimate origin of the parabl
  • 1. All I can think of when I hear the title of this book is the old S. Gross NatLamp cartoon, where the sixth blind guy has his hands buried in elephant shit. 2. Okay, I lied. The other thing I think of is two years ago, when every high tech company that wanted to fire people and let them down easy was handing them "Who Moved My Cheese?" first? So, who moved my elephant shit?
  • Fascinating how the comments here reflect so accurately the final verse of the John Godfrey Saxe poem that Schmaltz uses to begin his book.

    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!

    Saxe's poem was yet another version of the many different versions of the ancient Eastern fable. As with such fables, they hold true in many situations -- project work, and various posters to reviews of

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982

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