Comparing project managers to Olympic athletes might seem like an unlikely analogy. But it may not be as farfetched as it sounds. If you break down what it takes to compete in a multi-skill Olympic sport, you'll find strong similarities that resonate with the day-to-day life of any project and programme professional.
Both require individuals to be multi-skilled. With a range of competencies in our wheelhouse, both project managers and athletes can adapt to any emerging situation – whether that's the needs of a client or a sporting competition.
Many strings in your bow
Olympic biathletes train so that they can successfully combine two completely different skill sets into one Olympic sport. Cross-country skiing and rifle shooting require entirely different skill sets – one needs endurance and speed, the other accuracy and precision.
Project management similarly relies on a combination of skills that you can apply to the appropriate situation. Managers need to be skilled at time management, organisation, leadership, and client engagement – to name just a few. But it's more than just having these skills. It's about having confidence in your ability to know exactly when to act and trust your judgement in any circumstance.
Learning to read a situation and adapt to the course ahead is the key to being a good project manager and Olympic biathlete. The environments in which we use our flexibility may differ, but our approach remains the same. We assess the current situation, reassess our game plan when obstacles crop up, and action change to move forward with a better plan – preferably one that can also be adapted should the need arise.
All this while remaining calm and focused on the bigger goal.
Being a 'delivery biathlete'
Every day, project managers need to assess the right approach for project delivery work. Being able to flip between Waterfall and Agile approaches is vital, allowing project managers to switch from a standard cadence reporting cycle to increased communications frequency and content when an issue or exception occurs.
Choose the best approach for each circumstance and tailor it specifically to the task at hand.
As a project or programme manager, there will often be multiple projects in which they are part of, and each requires a unique form of engagement. Switching between different programmes requires a business-centric and formal approach, where the top-level detail is explained and then the manager can work directly with team to assess their needs. With project teams, it is possible to delve deeper into technical expertise and work more closely with them to ensure the operation runs smoothly.
In essence, project and programme managers need to be able to both “ski and shoot”, or adopt different approaches, switching between the two throughout the day.
Train, train, train
Perhaps the most direct and obvious comparison between the two roles is that you cannot wake up one day and become an Olympic biathlete or a project manager. Both require training, experience and dedication to reach the top level.
The skills we learn are advanced throughout our careers, but it is essential to put them into regular practice and we need to be open minded and willing to learn new ways to continue to be effective. Without practice, managers will lack the knowledge to adapt a plan confidently and lead their team to increased success.
Training is also an exercise in collaboration. Like an Olympic coach, working with your peers is the best way to ensure you learn and advance. Within the NTT DATA Project and Programme Management team, there is a wide range of knowledge and experience. It's important to work with individuals from all levels and be open to new ideas and it helps broaden your own views and perspective.
At NTT DATA UK&I, we look for innovation to come from anywhere, and I firmly believe that we can be inspired by anyone leading the way. So, when I experience something well done, I make a mental note and look to incorporate their methods into my own practice, that of my team and our wider organisation.
Of course, working in an organisation that encourages learning and development is a huge bonus in ensuring that we're working at the top of our game. Training schemes are great ways to learn new skills and add new strings to your bow – so project managers must make sure they are taking full advantage of every learning opportunity.
Taking ownership of our own development is the responsibility of each individual person. Like Olympic biathletes, we must apply our skills, be flexible, and constantly strive to improve. Any project or programme manager that is able to set themselves up to seize every opportunity will be well on their way to becoming a delivery champion.
To find out more about NTT DATA’s Project and Programme Management capabilities, get in touch with us today.