Leadership: How to Make an Elephant Fly

Flying Elephant

“I seen a peanut stand, heard a rubber band,
I seen a needle that winked its eye.
But I be done seen ‘bout ev’rything
When I see an elephant fly.”

                                                                         ~”Dumbo” lyrics

Have you ever made an elephant fly?  Probably not, but I know an organization that has.  Of course I’m talking about the Walt Disney Company, and it’s become a catch-phrase . . . Make an elephant fly.

Uncle Walt’s Wisdom

Walt once said, “The way to get started is to quit talking and get started”.  Figure out what you need, what you have, get the creative juices flowing, and get going.  Good leaders ensure that this is being done.  You can’t get anywhere by sitting around complaining because you don’t have this or that.

Unless you’re extremely lucky to have unlimited resources, you probably already know that accurate project planning is essential when you have a new project.  This is illustrated in the way live-action and animated films are developed.  With live-action, you can shoot extra film and use editing to get the outcome you want.  You can’t do that with animation.  It just costs too much to produce extra footage that you know you’re not going to use.

Another Disney executive summed it up perfectly in preparing his team saying, “Within these boundaries you will create.  This is the budget, these are the limitations.  Make it work within this framework.”  In other words, “make an elephant fly”.  Sometimes you just have to do with what you have to make it happen.

How to Make an Elephant Fly – Project Plan

The key to a successful project is in the planning.  Creating a project plan is the first thing you should do when undertaking any kind of project.

Often project planning is ignored in favor of getting on with the work.  However, many leaders fail to realize the value of a project plan in saving time, money and often, many, many problems.

In The Disney Way, Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson outline the nine steps to the planning process called, the “Blue Sky” process.

Step 1 – Blue Sky

  • Ask “What if?” instead of “What?”
  • For a while, learn to live with the discomfort of no knowing, or not being in full control.
  • Take a trip through fantasyland by starting with the story.

Step 2 – Concept development

  • Develop research.
  • Evaluate alternatives.
  • Recommend an idea.

Step 3 – Feasibility

  • Reconcile scope.
  • Prepare pro forma.

Step 4 – Schematic

  • Finalize master plan.
  • Outline initial business processes.

Step 5 – Design objectives

  • Finalize design details, equipment, and materials.
  • Develop implementation strategy and budget.

Step 6 – Contract documents

  • Prepare contract documents.

Step 7 – Production

  • Construct site infrastructure and develop work areas.
  • Produce show elements.

Step 8 – Install, test, adjust

  • Install the show.

Step 9 – Close out

  • Assemble final project documents.
  • Monitor performance.
  • Get sign-off letter from operations.

I guarantee that no one LIKE’s putting together a detailed plan, but it’s the only way the team and all of it’s leadership levels (in and out of the project team) can stay on track.

Expanded Excellence

In expanding on the Blue Sky process I’d make note of a couple of things that will make life so much easier. Because easier is good…

1 – Document Everything

Keep records throughout.  Every time you change from your baseline, write down WHAT the change was and WHY it was necessary.  Every time a new requirement is added to the project, write down WHERE the requirement came from and HOW the issue was adjusted because of it.

No one will remember everything – so write it down and you’ll be able to look back at any time.

2 – Keep Everyone Informed

Keep all of the project stakeholders informed of progress throughout the process.  Let them know of your success as you complete each milestone, but also inform them of problems as soon as they come up.  Also keep your team informed.

Make sure everyone is aware of what everyone else is doing.

Having followed all the steps above, you should have a good project plan and be able to deliver consistently successful products and services.  Remember to update your plan as the project progresses, and measure progress against the plan.  And at the end?  CELEBRATE!

What elephant are you going to make fly?  Have you started planning yet?  Is your team on board? What steps can you take this week to get things going? How can you help others who need this help? I would love to hear your thoughts!


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Andy Uskavitch is Leadership Development at Florida Blood Services
He develops and facilitates Leadership, Motivation & Teambuilding Seminars
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Blog |  (727) 568-5433

Image Sources: johnlund.com

Enhanced by Zemanta

One response to “Leadership: How to Make an Elephant Fly

  1. Hi Andy,

    Leadership is a very important topic in project management, and thus I am sure that your article would be of great interest to my fellow project managers and PM Hut readers.

    I would like to republish your above article on PM Hut, please either email me or contact me through the “Contact Us” form on the PM Hut website.


Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.