What happens when managers ignore a key element of a system?
If you visit the Sequoia National Forest in California and spend any time walking around, you will see that the lower sections of many of the giant redwood trees are charred. The history behind this provides insight into what happens when managers ignore a key element of a system.
For decades, the forest service attempted to prevent and put out forest fires in the sequoia forests. Then, a survey by biologists discovered a disturbing fact. The forest was not reproducing itself. There were very few young redwood trees.
Further investigation revealed that by eliminating fire, the forest service had eliminated a key element of this natural system. Heat from the fire enables Sequoia pine cones to open. The fire burns away the underbrush that would prevent light from reaching the Sequoia saplings. In addition, the chemical properties of the burnt soil provide the right environment for the growth of the Sequoias. Furthermore, the more mature Sequoia trees themselves are almost impervious to fire.
The forest managers had attempted to remove a perceived “negative” and had, instead, removed an element integral to the effective functioning of the system. Other examples of this abound in nature. Remove gravity (in space travel for instance) and the body atrophies. Remove common germs and immune systems remain undeveloped.
How many times do project managers remove a critical system element, one previously ignored or unidentified, only to wonder why their project fails?