The Project and The River

I’ve had this idea bouncing around in my head for a while that I haven’t quite been able to articulate. Let me see if I can use an image to explain it…let’s pretend that your project is a river. It moves, sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly, working its way downhill toward some sort of goal. Along the way, the river encounters obstructions in it’s path. Some are large obstructions, perhaps a beaver dam, others are relatively small obstructions like a boulder. The river may be slowed by these impediments, but it finds its way around them. Some obstructions it is even able to move out of it’s way – logjams break, trees are undermined and give way.

Our projects, like our metaphorical river, are shaped by the obstacles that they encounter. Our projects have obstacles that they can remove, and others that they can’t – and we have to work around those. If we could visualize our project’s progress over time, we might describe them as a winding river. They bend and twist, they rush and go calm.

What if you were to take away all of the obstructions in our river metaphor and just look at the water by itself? You would see this snaking tube of water that behaves in all sorts of strange ways for no obvious reason. If we follow the path of this watercourse (I visualize it as hovering in the air) we would have many questions: Why does the water suddenly turn into a hectic spray here? Why does it slow down and turn into an enormous slow pool there?

Without seeing the obstacles, you would only be able to speculate what the causes of these phenomenon were. I believe that we treat our development work in the same fashion as this river. We ignore the obstacles and only look at the work (the water). We don’t see the boulders (impediments) that we work around every day. We wonder why the project is moving so slowly, or we marvel at the sudden, unexpected rush that we never saw coming. If only we could see the obstacles before or even as we reached them. That’s what the good teams do.

We and our projects are shaped by the obstacles that we encounter every day. If you want to understand what shapes your projects, you need to understand the risks and impediments that impact it. If you are aware, and able to manage these issues, then you move from reacting to the obstacles to anticipating and mitigating their impact. You are able to change the shape of your project/river. You move from participant to architect.

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