Monday, September 25, 2017

7 things that sailing taught me about project management

Sailing is a wonderful experience.

If you have never sailed in your life, you can hardly imagine the beauty of this sport.
The touch of the sun on the skin, the scent of saltwater, the splash of water on the hull, the majestic strength of the wind when it comes to the sail, and of course the sense of peace and freedom that you feel by rolling on the waves.

Whether you are passionate about sailboats, windsurf or, heaven forbids, kitesurf, I think you cannot deny the similarities that exist between sailing and managing a project.

I am not talking about the old team-work stuff, which is certainly genuine and undeniable but something more intrinsic to the experience itself.

1 - Route

You need one, definitely.
The need for a route is especially true if you are planning to go further than a few hundreds of meters from the beach. Also, take into account possible setbacks and think in advance to countermeasures (somebody said risk management?). What happens if the waves get high? Would you be still able to reach your destination? Would you be able to call for help?

What happens if the wind changes direction?
You have to be good and fast in drawing up a new course. The magic is not in the plan but in the planning effort.

2 - Knowledge of the environment

Investigate the environment you are moving into. Are there any rocks just below the water? Sometimes, a quick chat with a sailor (or a project manager) that has already been where you are going, it can be of the greatest help.

3 - The wind

You cannot sail without wind, no matter how big the sail you hoist.
The wind, for a project, is the sponsorship it gets inside a company.
If the project’s sponsor is not capable of offering adequate support and backing, the project will languish in the middle of nowhere. No matter how strong the business case or how well you organize and manage the activities.
Sometimes, there is nothing more you can do than sit and wait.

4 - Sailing Downwind

Who would ever let the opportunity of sailing downwind escape? Certainly not me.
You can have a lot of fun but pay attention, if the wind changes you run the risk to jibe accidentally and to have your heads knocked out by the boom.
Likewise, in project management, always stay focused and do not relax just because you feel that the project is perfectly aligned with the sponsorship. Projects are living being in an ever-changing environment. Always pay attention to what happens around you.

5 - Sailing Upwind

If necessary, It can be done.
Obviously, you cannot put your bow straight against the wind, but if you carefully plan your course, it is possible to reach virtually any location. Probably it will take more time and greater efforts, but still, you have the possibility to succeed.
Do not surrender to difficulties, think and plan carefully then act accordingly.  Still pay attention, if your bow gets exactly against the wind, be prepared to wait or to work hard. You won’t go anywhere.

6 - Steady See

When the sea is steady, any fool can be a good sailor.
This one is quite self-explanatory. Do not fool yourself not being realistic about your skills, and reach for help if you think you may need it. After all, sailing, especially if the boat is bigger than a Laser,  cannot be a one-man band activity.
Underestimate issues or overestimate your possibilities can lead to severe consequences.

7 - Where do you want to go?

Windsurf is great to have fun but if you plan to live for a 14-day cruise in the Mediterranean sea, well, maybe you should opt for a bigger boat and crew.
It is the same with projects. Small projects do not require significant infrastructure and, sometimes, the project management team and the project manager may coincide. Otherwise, when the size of the project increases, it is far better to create a project management team, supported by a well-structured project management methodology. When in doubt, refer to point 6.

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