Pipelines and Pails


A friend recently told me a story about pipelines and pails. They learned about this concept in reference to creating a business that pays off in the long-term. The story compares two people one who carries two pails and gets paid for every pail. The second carries pails while spending time building something larger, something greater (a pipeline to deliver water).

If you search the concept you get a nice little cartoon about the difference.

But the concept resonated with me in a different way. I began to think about organizations and processes. I began to think about leaders, managers, and their employees. I began to see how all organizations carry buckets and how some have pipelines.mini-rusty-buckets-6-2

Pails may be a single task, or many tasks combined together. Pails have shape and volume, and specific processes. Pails may be self-generated, or were handed down by the one who came before you. Pails are efficient when the goal is to move a small amount of something from one place to another. However, as a company grows, pails are not enough.

Pipelines are introduced to automate, streamline, and carry more something in the same amount of time. Pipelines allow a company to grow and develop and scale. But sometimes pipelines replace people or at least make them fear their presence.

Trouble may arise when you move from pails to pipelines. At first that change is tough. People got used to their pails. They painted their pails. They stenciled their name on their pails, and their kids helped decorate the little handle. They were used to pails.

The pipeline brought change.

The pipeline brought fear.

The pipeline brought loss.

The transition to pipelines from pails is not always easy. We don’t always give pail carriers time to adjust to the pipeline, or explain why they are needed.

Sometimes explaining “why” helps, and moving slowly towards that new process or procedure or method.

But pipelines do not continue without care and maintenance.

Sometimes pipelines are broken.

Broken pipelines make everyone reach back for their pails.

Sometimes people find a way to shut off the valve, and go back using pails even when they are not broken.

Sometimes that old method, process, or way returns almost without notice.

One day you are standing at the end of a broken pipeline watching people fill their pails.

Think about your organization.

Where are the pails? Where are the pipelines? Where would pipelines better serve the need? Where have pails returned? Why did the move towards the pipeline fail?

I find my mind looking for pails and how to move, scale, change, or break the status quo to ensure pipelines and their impact can be built.

To my friend: Thank You for the perspective. 

2 thoughts on “Pipelines and Pails

  1. Yes! Love the analogy. But how do you build and maintain the pipeline when people won’t let go of their pails?

    1. That is certainly the challenge. Trying to build enough understanding and trust to help let go. For me, recognizing that the pails exist helps me better coach them through the change. P.S. I also am noticing my own pail here and there.

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