3 Project Management Lessons From a 70.3 Ironman

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By Conrado Morlan

I’ve been running for eight-plus years—ever since my son suggested I do a half marathon in San Antonio, Texas, USA. So when a friend suggested I try a triathlon, I was ready for it. At that point, three years ago, I had 10 full marathons and 15 half marathons under my belt.

The triathlon includes three disciplines in a single event: swimming, cycling and running. It was the athletic challenge I needed, similar to the professional challenge I encountered when I moved across industries to keep leading and managing projects.

To get ready for the triathlon, I had to go back to the pool and start swimming after a long time away. I borrowed a road bike from a friend to start the formal training. We worked out on our own on weekdays and as a team on weekends.

That first experience transformed me into a triathlete enthusiast, which led me eventually to the Ironman 70.3. The "70.3" refers to the total distance in miles covered in the race, consisting of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run.

The short distance triathlons helped prepare me for the Ironman 70.3. And as I’ve come to realize, learnings I’ve made along the way also apply to project management. These are my three main findings:

1. Expertise and Experimentation

Mastering all three disciplines in a triathlon can be difficult. My background is in running, but I was new to swimming and cycling. My coach gave good tips and workouts that helped me manage my bicycle on hills, navigate sharp turns and use all of my leg muscles to have a better stroke.

For swimming, I followed my instinct and experimented with the breaststroke. I soon felt confident in the pool and gradually in open waters. My experiment worked out, as I finished my swim in the Ironman 70.3 about 20 minutes ahead of the cut-off time.

As a project management practitioner, you may have mastered an industry-standard methodology and need to catch up with the new trends. In the triathlon, you may not transfer skills from swimming to cycling or running, but in project management, you can.

Communication, time management, and people management are required regardless of the methodology or best practice that will be used in the project. This gives you room to experiment. At project checkpoints, you can inspect, adapt and make the required changes to improve your project and be successful.

2. Transition Is Key

The transition is where the triathlete moves from one discipline to another, changing equipment. The area should be prepared in advance, with the gear set up in a way that helps the athlete have a smooth and fast transition. The time spent there may define the winner of the competition.

I would compare the transition area with the risk registry. The more prepared the project manager is, the less impact there will be to the project. The “gear” in your risk register will include the most impacting risk(s), the risk owner and the actions required to mitigate the risk if it arises. It’s a working registry, so the project manager should keep adding risks during the project as required.

3. Anybody Can Help You

A triathlon is not a team event, but that does not restrict the triathlete from getting support from others. Before the competition, the athlete may have followed a training plan supported by a coach, they might have been mentored by fellow triathletes and, last but not least, they likely benefited from family support.

It’s common for some triathletes to have a race sherpa on the competition day. The athlete and sherpa will discuss beforehand what tasks each will take on during the race. In short, a race sherpa will lend a hand whenever necessary and cheer for the athlete during the competition.

 

As a project manager, you have your project team, stakeholders and sponsor(s), but that does not restrict you from getting help from people outside the project. You may have an internal or external mentor, somebody in your organization who can be influential and help you address issues. I used to have a list of people in the organization I contacted in advance. I let them know about the project and asked them if I could ask for support if needed. That simple action helped me on several occasions when I faced a challenge.

If you are an athlete and a project manager, what lessons have you learned from practicing your favorite sport? Please share your thoughts below.

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: August 29, 2019 11:32 AM | Permalink

Comments (25)

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Rami,
Thank you for reading the article.

You are welcom M. Sahir.

I concur with you Alexandre, a triathlon is an endurance sport regardless of the distance. My teaammates were great mentors in my training for the 70.3 and learned a lot from their experiences. The sherpa is a great resource during the race day as it helps to keep the athelete fous on the competition. In my next race, I will look forward to getting a sherpa.
The last resort you mentioned may not happen in the real life, that's why there are a lot of "project managers by accident" that were called to fulfill a position without the experience. and were not able to withdraw themselves.

You are right Domenia. I had run more tn once the Dallas and Austin Marathons and every time it was a different race. The weather being the main factor, would make the race easier or difficult. Same with projects, during a regional implementation, the same project implemented in different countries was different. During the regional implementtion, we built knowledge that heled in the subsequent implementations that made our life easier.

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