How to eat an Elephant?

Hello, let’s talk about the Elephant. Which Elephant, you may ask? I mean the elephant in the room. First of all, what is meant by that? A quick Googling give:

“If you say there is an elephant in the room, you mean that there is an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about.”


(Picture borrowed from


Have you had an elephant in the room? We have, for sure. For us it was building a new GUI. That task itself is possible to predict, plan and eventually execute. But given that the GUI is a very central piece in our product, there is tons of dependencies to it. So the impact a new GUI have on other components is very hard to predict, and “touching the GUI” becomes very risky. 

I was given the project that should, amongst other things, produce a new GUI. I had numerous meetings with people from all parts of the organisation, but got nowhere closer to a new GUI. We just went around in circles, until one day I realised, the organisation deems it’s almost impossible to build a new GUI. I, as being the project leader, was totally stuck… 


I have a former colleague, his name is Alexander and he will soon retire after a long and very successful career. Alexander is extremely intelligent, a person that you come across once, or maybe twice, during your entire work life. If there was a question, he knew the answer, no matter what the question was about. I’ve learnt a lot from Alexander, but maybe the most important wisdom is the one I will now tell you about.

How to eat an elephant?

Once, Alexander and me, had the following conversation:

  • Alexander: “Tomas, how do you eat an elephant?”
  • Tomas: “Well I’m not sure… Usually I don’t eat elephants.”
  • Alexander: “You eat it in pieces, Tomas. IN PIECES!”

This, for me, is the most crucial part in Agile! In the project we now have addressed the first piece that was deemed most crucial, now we are planning to work on the next. I, as the project leader, feel confident again, and we are making progress! 


The learning from the conversation above, is that the only possible way to attack a huge problem is to break it down into pieces, and to work on the individual pieces. 

When you have done this for some time you have either “eaten the whole elephant”, or at least so much that you are satisfied.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

P.S. I have never eaten a real elephant, and I never will… 🙂 D.S.

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