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What Good Project Managers and Professional Athletes Have in Common

Professional athletes are revered and often worshipped for their skills and their performance in their respective sports. There are multi-million dollar parades and lavish parties that are held with thousands of people in attendance. Project managers, on the other hand, are given a pat on the back, sometimes an opportunity to take their team out for a celebration or, more likely, just a piece of cake in the break room when the project is complete. Professional athletes are paid millions while project managers make fractions in comparison.  Many will argue that professional athletes simply play sports, while project managers oversee projects that can change lives and keep corporate America up and running.  Professional athletes make commercials and endorse products (and get paid more for it) while project managers write articles and blogs (sometimes with no pay).  Professional athletes travel first class while project managers often fly coach.

So at the end of the day what do they have in common?  Simply put…a lot!

Ask any NFL quarterback why they are successful and they will tell you the overwhelming reason for their success is their preparation, as well as watching game tapes to review what works and what doesn’t. The great baseball pitchers will tell you that they keep notes on their opponents and study their own tendencies when they are in a funk. They consistently work on their mechanics to see what works and what doesn’t before their next start. For those of you who are golfers, you know that your mechanics are the key to your success. Imagine how much better we all could be if we could watch tapes of our swings to analyze what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong? Are you seeing a common theme yet?

OK, if you are a project manager take a moment and think about the paragraphs above. Can you tie it into your recently managed projects and your jobs? How often have you reviewed your lessons learned documentation from previous projects prior to starting a new project?  Step back a bit – how many of you actually even document your lessons learned? I can tell you that I have spoken to many directors and managers of project management offices within Fortune 500 companies and when I ask them that same question, they tend to shrug it off.  Usually they tell me they don’t have the time as they are running from project to project. The fact is documentation of your lessons learned can save you plenty of time and money on your future projects!  Make the time to document and review lessons learned from every project, every time, no exceptions.

The best project managers know, just as professional athletes do, that it is critical, upon completion of the project (or game) to take some time to document the wins and losses.  Make notes on what worked and what did not and what were the critical factors that led to that success or failure. There is no reason to ignore our failed projects because there is something to be learned from those projects just as well as there is something to be learned from the successful ones.  You can probably learn more from the failed projects actually! Don’t sweep them under the rug – they have good information tied to them! They will help ensure your success in the future.  Develop a template for capturing lessons learned for consistency across all projects. (The Project Management Institute has templates for capturing Lessons Learned. You can also search the web for other templates you may find useful.)  Highlight the most significant factors of the project and the deliverables and milestones.  Highlight problems that arose and what actions you took to correct those problems. You never know when a similar project will come along.   All of this information will save you time on the next project…and maybe also money and resources.

Information that should be documented for your lessons learned should include:

  • Requirements
  • Scope
  • Schedule
  • Cost
  • Quality/quality defects
  • Human resources
  • Communication
  • Stakeholder management
  • Reporting
  • Risk management
  • Procurement management
  • Process improvement
  • Product-specific information
  • Information on specific risks
  • Vendor management
  • Areas of exceptional performance
  • Areas for improvement

So while you may not be able to throw a 98 mph fast ball like a professional pitcher, throw a football as far as Peyton Manning, or even shoot a 68 at a professional golf course, you can still take a page out of their playbooks and document your lessons learned for future projects.

Looking forward to your thoughts!  Please let me know about your experiences in the Comments field below.

Copyright © 2009 Faisal Usta