Best Practices for Marathon Projects
Since large scale enterprise-wide projects are often referred to as ‘marathons’, I wanted to offer my thoughts from a former runner’s perspective.
1. Respect the Distance: When preparing for a race longer than six miles, you have to respect the distance. Most of us can’t just show up for the race and expect to have a good day, you have to train. The same is true for significant projects. The project team must be prepared for the duration of the project and leaders need to choose team members that have gone (or can) go the distance. In addition, strategies need to be in place to mitigate the risk of losing team members along the way. There are always more runners that start the race than cross the finish line.
2. Determine Your Goals: Are you looking to just finish the event or set a personal record? Successfully finishing a race or project is an achievement in and of itself. Others strive to beat a certain time, place in the age group or deliver a project under budget or provide additional benefits. Both are respectable, but the common denominator is finishing – so be sure to pace yourself.
3. Be Prepared for the Unexpected: No matter how hard you train or prepare, there are variables that you cannot control so be prepared (rain, other runners, change in leadership, the economy). Having said that, it isn’t possible to plan for every scenario, so when the unexpected happens - keep a clear head. Involvement in endurance events, whether corporate or personnel, can play games with your mind and challenge your self-confidence. When something unexpected happens, the best thing to do is remain calm, take a step back, think through the situation, then move forward. Every step forward is one step closer to finishing.
4. Support Systems: Most marathon training plans have the longest training run of 20 miles, but what if the race is 26.2 miles? Will it be enough training? The theory behind the 20 miles is that the distance is enough of a mileage base and that adrenaline, cheering crowds and other runners will carry you the final 6.2 miles. The same is true for multiyear software implementation projects. Years ago, I was part of the project management team for an 18 month, $30 million dollar software implementation. As we got towards the end of the project, there was not a day that went by when someone on the team would have doubts about our ability to make it to the finish line. What got the team across the line was the support and encouragement of each other.
5. Rewards: When you finish a race, you get a t-shirt and medal. Sounds corny, but we have seen people do some crazy things to get a T-shirt. After you finish your project, make sure that you reward yourself and the team for a job well done. The reward may be just a piece of paper or shiny metal, but it will serve as a reminder of the achievement and motivation for future challenges.
Marathons are large scale enterprise-wide projects are composed of people who share common goals, personal determination, focused training, and the need to achieve. The next time you are part of a project team – in any capacity – think with a marathon mentality.