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Driving Project Management Success with Analogies

Analogies are effective in explaining difficult concepts because they make the unfamiliar familiar by comparison. Using typical life experiences to describe work projects brings things into perspective for people looking for a fresh, simple way to approach challenges. We’ve discussed Project Management in relation to meal preparation a number of times so we thought we would take a look at some expert analogies for Project Management to see what other themes are out there. It turns out, driving is a common theme used to describe projects and their pitfalls.

Road Tripping

Imagining your project as a road trip, where you have your starting point, your final destination, and all the potential road blocks or wrong turns along the way is a good way to look at a project manager’s journey. Some experts have taken it a step further by using it as an example of how project failures occur.

“I have an analogy I use all the time. Imagine you’re taking a road trip. You have 10 hours, and you can only make three stops along the way. When you arrive, you see that you’ve made the trip in eight hours, and you’ve only stopped twice. That’s fantastic! Except you’re in Los Angeles, and you needed to get to Seattle. That’s the situation businesses get into all the time — they look at cost and process without looking at the outcome and whether or not there’s any business value in these projects. They can’t see the forest for the trees,” said Tushar Patel. (qtd. in CIO)

The next time you are trying to explain your job to someone, try using the road trip analogy, you might learn a few things about your approach you didn’t see before.

Your Daily Commute

Another car-related analogy, but slightly different from the road trip. Eric Ries, author of Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, uses the commute analogy to explain that you cannot possibly plan for every step of the project without driving yourself insane. You need to know where you’re headed and have a pretty solid idea of how you’re going to get there, then you need to get in the car and go.

“If I asked you to close your eyes and write down exactly how to get to your office—not the street directions but every action you need to take, every push of hand on wheel and foot on pedals—you’d find it impossible,” said Ries. (qtd. in

Alternatively, he explains how rocket launches require the utmost planning and need every step outlined to a T before launch and still, things go wrong. The bottom line is, it is important to be flexible and adaptable to change as a Project Manager. Don’t become so lost in the details that you lose sight of the goals. The value-add and the big picture are going to be left when the details are shaken through the sieve, so keep your focus there and you will be able to say the project was a success – even if it technically fails.


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