The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is an automated light railway system that helps people transit around the bustling metropolis of London. Unlike the underground “tube” and the main rail network, the DLR is driverless. The trains shuttle about their duty, computer controlled and remotely monitored.
The fact that they are automated and driverless means that you can sit right at the front—and more than once I’ve seen a kid at the front pretending she or he is the driver. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some adults doing the same! Of course, the reality is that however much they pretend to control the train, however much they pretend to pull levers and look at dials, nothing they can do will affect the journey. The only way they could immediately affect the journey is to pull the emergency stop handle (which would be a very bad idea on a busy commuter train!).
As I watched someone playfully “pretending” to drive the DLR, it struck me that far too many projects (and organisations) are run this way. There is someone in charge—perhaps because they have been given the role, or perhaps by virtue of their level of seniority—and they spend time looking at reports, enquiring as to why things are “red” and “amber” and seeking to steer the project (or organisation) in a particular direction. The challenge is that organisations are not always “wired” to ensure that the “drivers” get the feedback that they need, when they need it—meaning they can’t make the corrective action that they need to make. They only see things when it is too late, their options are limited and so often they have to take drastic and sudden action. The only control open to them at this point is to pull the emergency brake.