Making vital project decisions

19 Oct 2012

If you were on a burning oil rig on the North Sea, flames behind you, facing certain death, would you jump 15 stories into the freezing water? You could have an extra 20 minutes of life before hypothermia killed you off.

Dan made this call in real life.

Dan's story of the Burning Platform is the metaphor that Daryl Conner uses to explain project success and project failure in organizations in his book “Managing at the Speed of Change”.

Daryl’s the founder of Conner Associates and a living legend in the field of organizational change and strategic delivery. I had the privilege of having breakfast with Daryl earlier this year while I was in Washington, D.C. and hearing his views in person.

"A Burning Platform, they’ve got it so wrong," Daryl lamented. "This story has been interpreted to mean successful change is based on creating the fear of death in an organization. This is wrong. It is not why I chose this story."

"Change is successful when there is serious commitment. It’s not about fear. In Dan’s case, he had the choice to stay and die or to jump and live a little longer."

Our conversation covered two other points. Even though Dan’s window of opportunity was limited to minutes, he had the room to act. Importantly, he was psychologically ready to act and committed to living.

Daryl’s key points on commitment (& burning platforms):

  • It has to be worse to go back than it is to move forward
  • There needs to be something desirable to move towards
  • There is space to move and take action

When it comes to organizational change and powerful projects, remember it’s not about fearing death on the burning platform, successful change requires the commitment to act and move forward.

Joanne Flinn is the author of “The Success Healthcheck for IT Projects” (Wiley 2010) and can be reached personally at

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