Examples of "Thinking Out of the Park"
There are several examples that show how sense-making has an effect on project managers and how they perceive the project and the world. I refer to this as more than thinking "out of the box." I have taken that thinking adage to a whole new horizon by calling it "thinking out of the park" (to take a baseball analogy). There are several examples of using sense-making to “outwit" the conventional structures that exist in order to create a solution for a challenging project.
The first example has to do with the Apollo moon missions. These were extremely challenging to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), since the space vehicle was so large it was impossible to find a building to do construction and maintenance on the spacecraft.
The result was the construction of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), one of the largest buildings by volume in the world (over 5 acres of floor space inside the building alone!). The building was certainly a challenge, but one mechanical engineer at NASA was placed in charge of designing what would be one of the major components of the building – the doors.
The doors had some very strict parameters including withstanding winds of 125 miles per hour and the ability to open and close in winds of over 60 miles per hour. The idea of the opening and closing could not be a swinging door because of the terraced nature of the building. The weight of the doors would pull themselves off the hinges, as well. In order to make the doors work, they upward fold on themselves as they raise and unfold as they lower. In fact, if you look at them, they resemble a venetian blind.
My uncle was one of the main engineers on the project. There is a story (not able to verify it I am afraid since both my mother and my uncle have passed away) that there was an epiphany of sorts revealing the design while someone was opening the blinds one day. Whether or not this is fact, it is fun to think that something as unique as these doors could have been conceived from a simple daily activity.
The second example was tracking animals by using NASA software for tracking stars. The project managers found that whale sharks had spots on their bodies that were as unique as fingerprints. The project was to track these sharks. Doing this manually was both tedious and error-prone, so they contacted NASA and found that by using the same basic software that NASA uses to track stars (with some adaptation of the algorithms), they could track the spots on whale sharks.
The project manager found that this adaptation could also be used by configuring the algorithm to detect differences in whisker markings on animals such as polar bears. By thinking out of the park, the project manager was able to fit the requirements into a structure outside the conventional thinking of an orthodox project manager.