Project Management: Lessons From The Finish Line

Project Management: Lessons From The Finish Line

Project Management: Lessons From The Finish Line

“Learn to run when feeling the pain: then push harder.”
-William Sigei, former 10,000m World Record Holder

For almost 100 years the marathon has been an incredible test of a runner’s commitment and character; a gruelling challenge of 26.2 miles with often months of preparation leading up to that moment you cross the finish line. Each year, Options participates in the Belfast City Marathon and its accompanying relay race. Reflecting on the race, one realises the number of similarities between it and the experience of finishing a large-scale project. Here we consider a few lessons that are applicable to both.

Creating Your Plan

Marathons and projects should have clearly defined aims. Whether it is completing the distance in a certain time or smashing an important deadline, it is always useful to know what the end goal looks like. Several months ago, Options opened its new office headquarters in Belfast. In the early stages of the office-move project, we set specific, achievable goals. These included turning up circuits, procuring equipment, deploying infrastructure and ensuring our state of the art training, recreational and conference facilities were ready on time and delivered inside a clearly defined budget.

Similarly, for the Belfast Marathon, one colleague developed a running schedule in the weeks leading up to the race. His plan included the distance to be covered, optimal target times and nutritional diet guidelines. For either of these examples, create a plan with the end goal in mind, work backwards to determine your milestones and then document what your timeline for each task is.

The Importance of Preparation

“A marathon is hundreds of miles. The finish is the last 26.2”; this quotation embodies a key teaching from marathons – preparation is key. Similarly, whether delivering a multi-region project or implementing new technology, forward thinking and preparation is essential. Without it, you risk going over budget or failing altogether. Developing the stamina to both train for and finish a marathon often takes months of dedication. Early preparation will always pay off with great dividends as you near your project delivery date or race day.

Overcoming Burnout

Having a solid plan is worthless if you don’t have the resolve to follow through and put it into practice. As well as this, ensuring you don’t get flattened by the infamous ‘wall’ can be just as applicable in business as it is to making it past the 20th Mile. In order to avoid the risk of dropping out of the race entirely, there are a number of factors to consider. Firstly, pacing is the most basic but underestimated factor in both running and project management alike. With an adequate amount of preparation, you should have a solid understanding of the speed at which you need to travel. A dramatic increase in pace (at any point of the journey) can result in needless exhaustion or worse, key deliverables being missed.

Secondly, energy should be conserved, replenished and monitored at all times. Completely draining yourself in the first half of a project without sufficiently refuelling can have disastrous effects when nearing the end. Simple things like getting enough rest and understanding how to manage an accelerated heart rate or change in pace will help ensure bigger tests of endurance are met with ease and readiness.

The Home Stretch

Third and finally, mental grit should not be underestimated. Just as preparation and planning cannot be ignored, so too is the power of mental endurance. Without it, even the smallest of logistical tasks can spell disaster for an entire project. From hold-ups with customs, moving hardware from A to B or a managing a team of engineers who are working around the clock to get the job done, mental grit can have an enormous impact on all aspects of project delivery. For project managers and marathon runners alike, battling the last few miles of the home stretch can be a gruelling state of affairs, testing even the most experienced individuals to their limits. It is important to remember that even when the end is in sight, when you and your team have exhausted every fibre to finish, it is your mental resilience and determination in those final stages that will get you over the line. To future runners and project managers – good luck!

– Mogue, Options Procurement & Resale Team Lead

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