Marathon Mentality: Project Management from a Runner’s Perspective

This is an update to a post on my previous blog “Views from the Enterprise.” It is one of my favourite posts and is inspired by the weather today in Atlanta.

I’m a runner. For the last ten years, I have run to exercise and escape. I have run 5Ks, 10Ks, several half and full marathons.  Looking back on my running career, I feel that running and training, especially for distance events, improves my overall job performance and provides much needed time away from the office to work through issues, solve problems and develop strategies.

Since large scale enterprise software implementations and business transformations projects are often referred to as ‘marathons’, I wanted to offer my thoughts from a runner’s perspective.

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.

Determine Your Goals – Are you looking to just finish the event or set a personal record? While some strive to beat a certain time, place in their age group or deliver a project under budget or provide additional business benefits, successfully finishing a race or project is an achievement in and of itself. Both are respectable, but the common denominator is finishing – so be sure to pace yourself.

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.

Support Systems – Most marathon training plans have the longest training run of 20 miles, not the full 26.2 miles. 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 multi-year 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.

Rewards – When you finish a race, you get a t-shirt and medal. Sounds corny, but I 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 much like enterprise software implementations or business process improvement projects. Both 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.

For more on the correlation between running and project management, check out my book No Wishing Required:  The Business Case for Project Assurance. The main character is a project manager and you guessed it – a runner.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Scroll To Top