We see professional athletes on TV and in person and are amazed at their skill. Tom Brady, Dustin Johnson, Simone Biles (Serena Williams, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt…); these athletes stand out. There is something magic about them. What makes them so good? Why do we remember their names?
Many people love to play a sport but would never be able to turn it into a career (I golf but I’ll never be 1/10th as good as Jin Young Ko). But others are able to turn their passion into their livelihood.
They’re amazing at their job.
As an amateur, we stand in awe of these professional athletes.
What makes them so good? Is it natural talent? Yes, that’s part of it. But it’s more. It’s a dedication to their profession. They work at it day in and day out, always seeking to improve, even if they’re the GOAT.
The reality is, professional athletes train every day. They don’t just show up on game day and rely on their past experience and natural talent.
Project Management should be no different. If we want to be the best – not just launch our project but hit it out of the park (pun intended), if we want to be recognized as a leader in our field and get that promotion/next contract/plumb assignment, we can’t just rely on past successes or experience, either.
Here are five ways to keep improving, from my favorite sport, (American) football:
- Train – even during off-season, athletes train their bodies so when it’s close to game time, they are already primed and ready.
As PMs, this means working to learn and grow in the art of project management and leadership even when we’re between projects. Reading books and attending webinars will hone our skills and keep up to date with the latest tools.
- Study the opposition – a big part of game-day preparation is to learn about the opponent. Is there something specific we will need to watch out for? Who are the players for this game, on our team and theirs, who are well matched? What plays will work particularly well…or not…for this game?
Maybe a projects isn’t exactly an opponent, but each one has its unique challenges. What do we need to pay more attention to this time? Is the design particularly tricky, leading to a complex testing workstream? Are there hundreds of users to train this time, while your last project required almost no formal training? Think through the particular characteristics of this project to help your whole team prepare.
- Adjust – how many times does the Offence change up their approach in the second half? Adjustments are a basic part of the game. Those who adjust the best are frequently the winner, even if they were losing at Halftime.
After every project stage, sprint, month, or even each week, review what happened, incorporate new information, and adjust. Remember – it’s not the plan itself, it’s the planning. Sticking to a path that doesn’t work is going to dig a deeper hole. Knowing when to adjust, and how, is the key.
- Review the tapes – after every game the team gets together…for a Retrospective! What went right, what did we plan for but didn’t work out? What do we need to work on for next time, as a team and individually?
This is a critical ingredient and it’s so often overlooked on a project. Additionally, as a PM, we can periodically review past Lessons Learned. Do we see any patterns? Is there a cycle or habit we need to break? This is an amazingly beneficial practice, if done regularly.
- Be a part of the community – football players spend a lot of time together training, traveling and, of course, playing the game, But have you noticed: after the game the opposing players meet on the field and talk with each other? Not just a “good game” pat on the back, but you can tell many know each other personally.
There are other Project Managers out there – some you’ve worked with in the past, some in your current organization that maybe you only see at departmental meetings. Get to know them. And reach beyond your current circle. Local groups and on-line forums give you the opportunity to talk about project management with others who understand. Learn from them. Give your own advice. If you have a network of PMs, it’s easier to sustain your growth.
A Project Manager’s primary muscle is our brain rather than our quads or entire throwing arm. It’s even more important to reflect, plan, adjust, and continue to learn.