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SIX!!! 6 lessons for IT Project Management from a great weekend of sport

SIX!!! 6 lessons for IT Project Management from a great weekend of sport

This weekend I watched some remarkable displays of sporting endurance where the winners, in both cases, just seemed to have a little something extra left in their locker to power them onto victory after long, hard matches. IT Project Management can be a long, hard slog too and, with the rate of failures still very high, I wonder if Project Managers and teams could learn something.

For context, I am writing this on the Wednesday after England's Cricket World Cup win at Lords and Novak Djokovic's Men's Singles victory at Wimbledon. Both the New Zealand cricket team and Roger Federer must have been able to feel their respective trophies in their hands but their opponents had that little added ingredient, more than luck, there was a tenacity, a drive, a never say die strength that, if you could bottle it, would make you a millionaire.

As a cricket fan, it has taken me this long to process what I saw on Sunday. The match had ended in a tie which led to a tie-breaker, which also ended in a tie all leading to a super over that delivered a frenetic end to a match that had sauntered along in slow motion until the last hour. It felt just like a lot of IT projects that I've seen teeter on the brink over the years - as convoluted, as exciting, as frustrating, as nerve-jangling, as unpredictable and, ultimately, as satisfactory.

Eoin Morgan's England team were predicted to take this tournament by the scruff of the neck, they were described by one pundit as "the demolition men" who destroyed teams in their wake, notching up huge totals along the way. Ahead of the final thought, I knew, in my heart of hearts, that it wasn't going to be easy. As a cricket fan, you know it never is with England, just like IT Projects are never easy. I just didn't realise it was going to be as hard as it was, a sentiment that many IT Project Managers can also relate to.

On the same day, across London at SW19, after almost five hours on court and over 400 points of tennis, the men’s singles final at Wimbledon was decided by a first-to-seven-point tiebreak. Roger Federer, now 37 years old, an eight-time Wimbledon champion, out-played Novak Djokovic for much of the match. Federer hit more aces, he won more points and he broke serve more often. Djokovic showed why he is the top-ranked male player though, he dug deep. In the 16th game of the final set, Djokovic executed his game better when it mattered and dominated the tiebreak climax to secure his 16th major title. Phew!

So, what's this got to do with IT Project Management?

It's simply this. While it's quite right that the likes of Djokovic, Stokes and Morgan get their adulation, for IT Project teams, long days that make you ache from head to toe are a normal occurrence. It's what we can learn about endurance, resilience and teamwork that could help you win with your next IT Project.

1 - Strong Leadership

England captain Eoin Morgan demonstrated his leadership skills, not just during the match, but apparently, also at a reception thrown by the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street. The team were a little rowdy, chanting "Allez Allez Allez" when Morgan intervened and said, "Look, guys, we’ve got to calm it," according to reports in the Daily Telegraph. They calmed it. Firm leadership and respect from the team for that leadership are vital and sadly missing in many of the IT Projects we are asked to help bring back into line. 

2 - Deliver When It Matters

A lot of struggling projects have a lack of clear prioritisation. Look at that Wimbledon final, Federer hit more aces, he won more points and broke serve more often but it was Djokovic who executed his game better when it mattered. Be mindful of what really matters in your IT Project and focus your A-game on those areas.

3 - Consistency

Djokovic, Federer and Rafael Nadal, who fell to Federer in the semi-finals at Wimbledon, have an unprecedented stranglehold on men’s tennis. Federer is 37, Nadal is 33, Djokovic is 32. The greatest male tennis player of my childhood, Bjorn Borg retired at 26. None of today's "veterans" are playing their very best tennis these days, but all are playing with a steady consistency that is keeping the newcomers out of the top rankings.

This consistency is something we should aim for. All too often I see the same project team deliver a resounding success and then follow it with a turkey. Be a student and practitioner of what works for you!

4 - Use External Resources

Coaching obviously played a huge part in both the sporting successes outlined here and your IT Project partner can be a really useful independent pair of eyes when you can't see what's going wrong with your IT Project.

Beyond this, it's worth developing a sense of flexibility about who makes up your IT Project team. Don't feel that you have to rely on your in-house squad when there are a range of resourcing solutions available from the Project management as a Service market. One Project leader told me once that she feels like they have failed if they have to reach out to PMaaS and this way of thinking needs a reframe. Traditionally, the England team would have all been born in this country, a casual glance at Sunday's heroes reveals a different story! Captain Eoin Morgan was born in Dublin, Jofra Archer in Barbados, Jason Roy in South Africa, even man of the match Ben Stokes was born in New Zealand - you get my point! You don't have to rely on 'home-grown' talent for your success.

5 - Celebrate and Remember It's Fun

Watching Djokovic during his game (and Federer too) was a lesson in celebrating each point. I mean, they don't run around the court in a lap of honour at the end of each game but there is always a self-congratulatory 'air fist' or a growled "YES". No little victory goes unacknowledged and it should be the case with IT Projects. We're really good at chunking work into manageable units, like sets and games in tennis, but we are often really bad at giving ourselves credit where credit is due.

I got really tense watching the cricket, I paced around, I chugged a beer or two, I bit my fingernails and then I remembered that I loved cricket and that this was meant to be fun. We sometimes forget to enjoy ourselves when delivering IT Projects too. C'mon! This is the best job in the world - let’s remember to enjoy it!!

6 - Stay Calm

I recall Stokes and Butler coming out to bat to a tumultuous Lord's roar! They stayed calm hitting two boundaries on their way to posting 15-0 from their six balls. Under such pressure how easy would it be to lose your head? Under the scrutiny of the c-suite, the clamour for transparency from stakeholders, the pressure for successful delivery, how easy is it for us to lose ours?

I remember, early in my career, a project manager having a full-on nervous breakdown over his IT project, I vowed then that none of this was worth shortening your life for. Panic makes terrible choices!

So that's it really! It's all about having that special something extra in your locker. Stokes has it. Djokovic has it. Morgan has it. YOU TOTALLY HAVE IT!


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