Six lessons that IT Project Managers can learn from the world’s best athletes

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David Cotgreave
If you like David's blogs - he is now a published author - Straight Talk on Project Management (VOLUME III)- Free eBook. Why not download your copy today. David Cotgreave MBA, BSc (hons), PRINCE II, is Professional Services Director at Stoneseed, with over 20 years’ experience in IT Consulting. David has worked with organisations such as BT Engage IT and KPMG, before founding Stoneseed in 2009 and has gained considerable business experience whilst working with a wide range of organisations across the UK and Europe carrying out a range of strategy, review and implementation projects. David is currently responsible for leading the Programme and Project Management services offered by Stoneseed. Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) from Stoneseed offers clients access to Project Management staff, resources and tools at a flexible and predictable cost via a fully Structured Managed Service.

PM lessons to learn from the worlds best athletesPossibly, like me, you have been hooked on an outstanding summer of sport.

Regular readers of my blogs will know that I take inspiration from all manner of experiences and walks of life and I bring them back to use in my IT Project Management efforts. Inevitably, I have been immensely motivated by the athletes I have cheered on and felt stimulated to replicate their success.

Here are just six lessons that IT Project Managers can pinch from the world’s best athletes.

1 – When You Trip Get Straight Back On Your Feet And Keep Going.

When Mo Farah stumbled in the 10000 metres final he didn’t throw in the towel. He didn’t complain or look for excuses. He picked himself up, focussed on the finish line and won the race. Then, a few days later he almost repeated his fall in the 5000m heats. Somehow, Mo managed to stay upright after a collision with another athlete If it slowed him down it didn’t show.

As IT Project Managers we should take a leaf out of his book.

The Projects that fail are the ones where taking a tumble leads to blame, excuses or packing it all in. Successful projects are led by PMs who, like Mo, pick themselves up and head forward with a laser sharp focus on the finish line.

2 – Analyse The Data

This year, more than ever, I’ve heard something from winning athletes that is music to my ears. As they have been interviewed on television and reeled off thanks to family, friends and coaches, many have also taken time to thank the crews who have analysed their data.

Like an IT Project, any athletic endeavour generates stacks of data. In both cases, it’s what you do with that makes the difference.

Most of what the athletes do can be measured and therefore measurably improved. Data analytics can also prevent injuries and reduce recovery time. Current datasets like physiology, race performance and medical records can match against historic data to warn when an athlete is in danger of pushing themselves too far.

Data strategies now seem as important as nutrition and training programmes.

If you were to similarly prioritise ‘listening to your data’ within your IT Project you would benefit from early warning of problems, get a ‘heads up’ on potential time or financial savings, allocate resources better, enjoy more robust governance and transparency … basically, you would spend more time on the winner’s podium.

3 – Do What Scares You

Did you hear that gold medal winning swimmer Adam Peaty was scared of the water as a child? Imagine if he’d indulged that fear and stayed on dry land. He would have led a pretty normal, safe, life – he probably would never have gone on a cruise – but generally, he’d have done OK.

However, at some point, he dipped a toe. He summoned up the courage and, probably with his heart pounding, realised that it wasn’t so bad after all.

Thing is, in an IT Project sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone to get the medal. It could be that you’re used to managing just in-house talent and you try Project Management as a Service for the first time or it could be that you let someone carry out a gap analysis on your operation and it shines a light on your shortcomings.

If it scares you but you can see how it will get the job done – do it. Sometimes wild success lies on the other side of taking brave steps.

4 – Be Part Of A Great Team

I’ve loved watching the team sports this summer, especially the women’s hockey. As I write this, the Team GB squad are preparing for the final. What has struck me, from listening to their interviews and reading their tweets, is how together they are. It’s inspiring how they play FOR one another and how each knows the specific part that they play.

Successful IT Project teams are like this – and you know when you are part of a special team, don’t you? It all just feels effortless – even when your backs are against the wall.

Most elements of an IT Project are team endeavours. The stronger your team, the more together you are, the more likely you’ll repeat successful outcomes.

5 – Be Invincible And Look It.

I’ve watched Andy Murray in two finals this summer. In my eyes, both times he has had on his face a look that says ‘to beat me, you’ll have to kill me. He has looked formidable.

Imagine if you portrayed that air of power and confidence as an IT Project Manager! Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean saying no to all stakeholder requests or scope changes, Andy himself has adjusted his game plan when circumstances have necessitated, but by carrying a ‘no-nonsense’ focus on the end result – on your face – you’ll get the respect that your talent deserves.

IT project management is not for the meek – so puff out your chest … BRING IT ON!

6 – Smile While You Win

Usain Bolt is a machine! I’ve thought that the only way to stop him might be to make all the athletes wear every medal that they’ve ever won when they race. Even then, Bolt would probably whizz past sounding like a wind chime in a hurricane.

What I love about him is that he always has a smile on his face as he crosses the finish line. Did you see him smiling at Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse as he eased over the line in their 200m semi-final? It was joyous.

Bolt works hard. He trains hard. I bet during more intense workouts that smile fades. I bet that when he suffers a setback or an injury he allows himself a moment of introspection. I also bet that all of that is worth the smile when he wins the race for which he is training.

IT Projects aren’t easy. There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get your project over the finish line. When you’re going through the pain think of the joy that winning will bring …

… and make sure that when you cross the line … you remember to smile, both to yourself and all those crossing the line with you.

In IT Project Management, in business and in life, the very best athletes, the best entertainers, the most successful business leaders and the richest entrepreneurs should inspire us to do better.

Instead of learning from them or emulating their efforts, way too often we look for excuses that justify our own less impressive performance.

Watching sport this summer has made me think differently. I can’t wait to hit the track on my next IT Project and you’ll be able to my finish line smile from space!

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